Countries contribute to action plan for noncommunicable diseases
Health professionals are accustomed to working with the sick. But to reduce the main killers in the European Region, noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer, the health sector needs to change the behaviour of those who are still well. Representatives of 36 countries in the WHO European Region met in Copenhagen on 17–18 March 2011 to set a five-year course for effective action to tackle noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).
The evidence on what needs to be done to address NCDs is clear, so the action plan under development must follow a coordinated, evidence-based approach. A set of flagship issues were identified for all NCDs – targets that can realistically be delivered within the next five years, based on the effective implementation of policies. They include:
- for tobacco and alcohol, concentrating on fiscal policy and implementation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control;
- a 3g reduction in salt intake to reduce the incidence of stroke and heart attacks across all age groups;
- transfat elimination and saturated fat reduction; and
- in the transport sector, working to promote physical activity.
Focus on those who are not yet ill
At the meeting, Karl Andersen, Professor of Cardiology at the University of Iceland, presented evidence from Iceland that addressing risk factors had led to an 80% drop in mortality from coronary heart disease, whereas treating the disease only led to a 25% decrease. These results could be extended across the European Region and show that countries can make a huge impact on health by “addressing those who are well” through the four main risk factors: tobacco, alcohol, diet and physical inactivity.
NCDs on the international health agenda
A global ministerial conference on NCDs will be held in Moscow, Russian Federation, at the end of April 2011, and the subject will be addressed again at a United Nations high-level meeting in New York, United States, in September 2011.