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Health ministers to tackle non-communicable diseases

20 April 2011
The burden of non-communicable diseases is evident in every corner of the Commonwealth, and is impacting on both rich and poor countries, at all levels of society – Commonwealth Secretary-General

Commonwealth health ministers and senior officials will meet in Geneva, Switzerland, on 15 May 2011 to discuss how to tackle non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which currently kill 35 million people worldwide every year.

The theme for the 2011 Commonwealth Health Ministers Meeting is ‘Non-communicable diseases – a priority for the Commonwealth’.

Ministers will hear from Jean Claude Mbanya, President of the International Diabetes Federation and Professor of Medicine and Endocrinology at University of Yaoundé I, Cameroon. Dr Ala Alwan, Assistant Director-General for Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health at the World Health Organization (WHO) will also address the meeting, which takes place on the eve of the 64th World Health Assembly.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma said: “The burden of non-communicable diseases is evident in every corner of the Commonwealth, and is impacting on both rich and poor countries, at all levels of society.

“The increase of these diseases has become far more than a health challenge. It is now a human development challenge which needs to be tackled urgently.”

The Commonwealth has played a significant role in raising the profile of NCDs on the global health agenda. In 2009, when Commonwealth Heads of Government met in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, leaders issued a statement on the growing burden of NCDs and called for a United Nations (UN) Summit to develop strategic responses to this.

The Commonwealth Secretariat responded with a Roadmap on Non-communicable Diseases, which was accepted by health ministers in May 2010. It calls on the Secretariat to use its unique convening position to facilitate partnerships, to share examples of good practice in responding to this health crisis, and to develop a NCDs media strategy.

Health ministers also welcomed the adoption of a UN General Assembly Resolution on the ‘Prevention and control of non-communicable diseases’ and called for the highest participation in the UN General Assembly Special Session on NCDs, which takes place in September. The Secretariat’s Health Section is collaborating with partners, including the WHO and the NCD Alliance, in the build-up to the summit.

Note to Editors:

According to the WHO, NCDs cause 60 per cent of deaths worldwide and are projected to account for more than 75 per cent of global deaths by 2030. NCDs include cancers, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases. Experts say they pose a serious threat to sustainable development and are undermining the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals, given the close association between health and development.

Of the 35 million deaths from NCDs each year, eight out of ten come from middle and low income countries, many of which do not have programmes to tackle the problem.