New report highlights the value of an aligned health systems response to NCDs


The WHO European Region has made progress in reducing the burden of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) in the past decades, but many unexploited opportunities for acceleration remain.

A new WHO report, entitled “Health systems respond to noncommunicable diseases: time for ambition”, provides pragmatic and actionable policy responses to tap into these opportunities. The report demonstrates the case for holistic transformation and systems thinking – analysis that focuses on the way that the constituent parts of health systems interrelate, and consistently prioritizes policies which consider socioeconomically disadvantaged and vulnerable populations. The report provides 38 key policy messages and 160 potential policy responses, over 9 policy areas particularly relevant in addressing NCDs, comprising:

  • coherent governance
  • strengthened public health services
  • multidisciplinary primary health care
  • rationalized specialist services
  • people-centredness
  • fit-for-purpose health workforce
  • aligned financing
  • accessible medicines
  • adequate information solutions.

With examples from numerous countries, “Time for ambition” celebrates successes already achieved and provides resources for cross-country learning to inspire action regionwide. The report is complemented by a “Compendium of good practices”, featuring 22 approaches in the European Region demonstrating results in scaling-up the NCD “best buy interventions”. Overall, the compendium and the report show that faster progress is possible and embody an inspirational call to action for the Region’s countries.

These two publications are very timely as their key policy recommendations are aligned with the commitments of Health 2020 and pave the way for countries to move towards universal health coverage and the health-related Sustainable Development Goals.

The health impact of NCDs in the Region is alarming, collectively accounting for 89% of deaths and 85% of years lived with disabilities. At least 80% of heart disease, stroke and diabetes cases, and 40% of cancer cases could be prevented by lifestyle interventions. Despite improvements in the Region in recent years, there is still huge scope for ambition. This report serves as a guideline for improving health systems across the Region.