Background - the need for action

Mr Ahmed Hallyyev

Although the European Region is a champion in addressing the noncommunicable disease (NCD) agenda globally, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 remains a challenge. With only 11 years left to reach the SDGs, it is time to review progress made and decide on the next steps. To reach the target on NCDs (SDG 3.4) of reducing premature mortality by one third, countries need to scale up implementation of the best buys, capitalizing on and implementing the political commitments from the third United Nations High-level Meeting on NCDs. Acknowledging this need for action, the 53 Member States of the European Region are invited to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan on 9–10 April 2019, to the WHO European High-level Conference on Noncommunicable Diseases.

Paving the way from Ashgabat

The first European high-level conference on NCDs was held in Ashgabat in December 2013. It led to the adoption of the Ashgabat Declaration on the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases in the Context of Health 2020, later adopted by the WHO Regional Committee for Europe at its 64th session. The Declaration was a landmark for the Region. It reinforced international mandates on NCDs and emphasized the paramount importance of action on tobacco control, people-centred health systems, strengthened information systems to support monitoring and evaluation of NCD programmes, intersectoral action for NCD prevention and control, and national plans and target setting for the following years.

2018 was a milestone year for NCDs, with a series of high-level meetings at global and regional level – all addressing the need for more and bolder action to beat NCDs. At the global level, the third United Nations High-level Meeting on NCDs set new commitments to meet the SDGs in 2030, and mental health and air pollution were included in national efforts that countries promised to undertake to reach SDG target 3.4. This second NCD conference in Ashgabat is expected to result in an agreed roadmap for implementing global and regional commitments at the country level, across sectors, with multiple stakeholders and in different settings.

A snapshot of progress on achieving the SDG target on NCDs

The European Region has long been leading the fight against NCDs – and is currently on track to achieve SDG target 3.4: “By 2030, reduce by one third premature mortality from noncommunicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being”. However, more progress is needed in areas such as tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, obesity, unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, hypertension and diabetes – and new bold measures to bring the best buys to scale are necessary.

The Region has been successful in sustaining a 1.5% annual reduction in premature mortality from cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases. However, although success rates in reducing the burden of NCDs in the Region have given rise to cautious optimism, progress is uneven both among and within countries and across risk groups. To achieve SDG 3.4, we must close the divide in NCD mortality and morbidity rates between eastern and western European countries. While high-income, western European countries are consistently reducing deaths, several countries of central and eastern Europe – though showing great improvement – are lagging at least 20 years behind. The key social and economic determinants of NCDs in these countries will require more specific assessment and intervention if the underlying causes are to be modified.

Aims of the Conference

The Conference invites 53 European countries to send high and technical level representatives to share their experience of the decline of premature mortality from NCDs and to present the feasibility of implementing this in other countries.

It will offer high-level panel discussions and technical plenary sessions, as well as interactive working groups to discuss and agree upon concrete additional actions to achieve more together by 2030.