Lance Armstrong (seated left), champion cyclist, cancer survivor and founder of the support organisation Livestrong, attends a round-table discussion on fostering international cooperation to address non-communicable diseases (NCDs) on the sidelines of the General Assembly’s high-level meeting on NCDs.
Lance Armstrong (seated left), champion cyclist, cancer survivor and founder of the support organisation Livestrong, attends a round-table discussion on fostering international cooperation to address non-communicable diseases (NCDs) on the sidelines of the General Assembly’s high-level meeting on NCDs.

World leaders commit to tackling non-communicable disease

World governments pledged in September to work to adopt new targets before the end of 2012 to combat non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, cancers, diabetes and lung disease. 

Heads of state were taking part in the first ever high-level meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on non-communicable disease, which pose a socio-economic and development challenge of “epidemic proportions,” said the meeting.

“The prognosis is grim,” warned UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who noted that only once before had the Assembly convened at the ministerial level to sound the alarm on a global health issue, when it had held its first summit on HIV/AIDS.  He cited statistics from the World Health Organization stating that deaths from non-communicable diseases would increase by 17% in the next decade, and in Africa they would jump by 24%.

A total of 34 heads of state were present, compared to 25 at the HIV Summit in 2001.

They committed to tackle the crisis by reducing risk factors and creating health-promoting environments, strengthening national policies and health systems, bolstering international cooperation and partnerships, and promoting research and development. Member states pledged to work with WHO, other UN agencies and international organisations to develop before the end of 2012 “a comprehensive global monitoring framework, including a set of indicators, capable of application across regional and country settings… to monitor trends and to assess progress made in implementing national strategies and plans on non-communicable diseases”.

For physical therapists, the recommendations on the role of physical activity were of particular interest. The world leaders gave a commitment to advancing multi-sectoral, cost-effective, population-wide interventions to reduce common risk factors such as physical inactivity. They would do this by implementing international agreements and strategies, and education, legislative, regulatory and fiscal measures. 

In particular, they committed to advancing the WHO Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, introducing policies and actions aimed at promoting healthy diets and increasing physical activity in the entire population, including in all aspects of daily living. The actions might include giving priority to regular and intense physical education classes in schools; urban planning for active transport; the provision of incentives for work-site healthy lifestyle programmes; and increased availability of safe environments in public parks and recreational spaces to encourage physical activity.

WCPT was represented at the meeting through the World Health Profession’s Alliance (WHPA), of which the confederation is a member. WHPA representative Wonchat Subhachaturas said that the spread of non-communicable diseases would only be challenged globally by emphasising effective health care as a human right, not as a limited set of targets on specific conditions. 

“The way forward is to develop health care systems based on a core of solid primary care,” he said. “These cannot be reduced to serving particular interests. Illnesses are not confined to one disease category in an individual patient.”

“The World Health Professions Alliance that we form a part of – speaking for 26 million health professionals – urges member states to take immediate and sustained action, from now, to beat this serious threat to human health and development.”

Before the summit, the WHPA produced an easy-to-use, practical guide to help individuals and their health professionals reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases. The WHPA Health Improvement Card consists of a health scorecard, with “how to” explanatory guides for individuals and health professionals.

The information obtained through the card can help individuals and health professionals develop interventions to address individuals’ risk factors and actively improve their health and well-being. They are shown how to: avoid tobacco use and harmful alcohol consumption; improve diet; undertake regular sufficient physical activity; achieve and maintain healthy weight; manage tension and stress; access preventive care and screening for preventable illness.

The card was launched on 12th September, and was promoted at several side events at the United Nations high-level meeting in New York. Brenda Myers, WCPT Secretary General, joined David Benton, Chief Executive of the International Council of Nurses, and Julia Seyer from the WHPA Secretariat at the launch in Geneva where the card was praised as a concise and practical tool. The card was also launched at the international congress of the FDI World Dental Federation held in Mexico.  

It is available in both English and Spanish from the WHPA website: www.whpa.org/ncd_campaign_health_improvement_card.htm