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ECOSOC’s Agenda Should Include Noncommunicable Disease Threat In Developing Countries

“[E]xplicit indicators to measure progress in reducing heart diseases, stroke, diabetes, cancers and chronic respiratory diseases” are missing from the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) agenda as it meets in Geneva this week “to focus on implementing the internationally agreed goals and commitments in regard to public health,” and the “omission needs to be urgently addressed if the intent is to have a major impact on reducing poverty by 2015,” Ala Alwan, WHO’s assistant director-general for Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health; George Alleyne, PAHO’s director emeritus; and Martin Silink, president of the International Diabetes Federation write in an opinion piece in the Hindu.

“Infectious diseases still strike at millions in developing countries, but they are rapidly being overtaken by the epidemic of noncommunicable diseases,” according to the authors. Alwan, Alleyne and Silink say that “proven policies” can save “[m]illions of lives” through “interventions to reduce tobacco use, unhealthy diets, physical inactivity and harmful use of alcohol, and by strengthening primary care services to respond to the health-care needs of people needing screening, early detection and treatment of noncommunicable diseases.” Though there have been “some recent promising initiatives,” developing countries face challenges today that are “already greater than at any time since noncommunicable diseases became a problem in industrialised countries,” write the authors.

The authors conclude that combating noncommunicable diseases “requires strong global and national partnerships,” noting that WHO this week is launching a Global Noncommunicable Disease Network, and they call on “[r]ich countries” to support developing countries “through aid and expertise which have led to drastic reductions in deaths from these diseases in their own populations” (Alwan/Alleyne/Silink, 7/8).

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