Urgent government action is needed to meet global targets to reduce the burden of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), and prevent the annual toll of 16 million people dying prematurely — before the age of 70 — from heart and lung diseases, stroke, cancer and diabetes, according to a new report of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
“The global community has the chance to change the course of the NCD epidemic,” says WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan, who launched the "Global status report on noncommunicable diseases 2014". “By investing just US$ 1-3 dollars per person per year, countries can dramatically reduce illness and death from NCDs. In 2015, every country needs to set national targets and implement cost-effective actions. If they do not, millions of lives will continue to be lost too soon.”
The report states that most premature NCD deaths are preventable. Of the 38 million lives lost to NCDs in 2012, 16 million or 42% were premature and avoidable — up from 14.6 million in 2000.
Nearly 5 years into the global effort to reduce premature deaths from NCDs by 25% by 2025, the report provides a fresh perspective on key lessons learned.
Premature NCD deaths can be significantly reduced through government policies reducing tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diets and physical inactivity, and delivering universal health care. For example, in Brazil the NCD mortality rate is dropping 1.8% per year due in part to the expansion of primary health care.
But the report calls for more action to be taken to curb the epidemic, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, where deaths due to NCDs are overtaking those from infectious diseases. Almost three quarters of all NCD deaths (28 million), and 82% of the 16 million premature deaths, occur in low- and middle-income countries.
"Best buys" to reduce the burden
The WHO report provides the baseline for monitoring implementation of the “Global action plan for NCDs 2013-2020”, aimed at reducing the number of premature deaths from NCDs by 25% by 2025. Outlined in the action plan are 9 voluntary global targets that address key NCD risk factors.
Examples of regional and country "best buy" successes:
Turkey was the first country to implement all the “best-buy” measures for tobacco reduction. In 2012, the country increased the size of health-warning labels to cover 65% of the total surface area of each tobacco product. Tobacco taxes now make up 80% of the total retail price, and there is currently a total ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship nationwide. As a result, the country saw a 13.4% relative decline in smoking rates from 2008 to 2012.
The report also states examples from Hungary, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Canada, Mexico and the USA.
Working on the ground in more than 150 countries, WHO is helping develop and share “best buy” solutions so that they can be implemented more widely. WHO is also helping countries understand the dimensions that influence NCDs outside the health sector, including public policies in agriculture, education, food production, trade, taxation and urban development.