European countries urge greater action on chronic disease prevention, control

Oslo, 26 November 2010

Ministers and officials from around 40 European countries today ended a two-day consultation on global and regional efforts to prevent and control the increasing deaths and suffering caused by noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), as well as their effects on economies and development.

The meeting, held in the Norwegian capital Oslo, was a critical step in Europe’s build-up to next September’s first-ever United Nations General Assembly High-level Meeting on the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases.

“NCDs are becoming a major health challenge all over the world, and the cost of not taking action is unacceptable,” says Norwegian Minister of Health and Care Services Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen. “Countries in the European Region need to share our own domestic experience with other nations on what does and does not work in the fight against NCDs.”

Key outcomes of the Oslo meeting include the following.

  • National health plans will give higher priority to NCDs.
  • Many countries called for the inclusion of NCDs into global development initiatives and related investment decisions. The official development assistance (ODA) currently received is insignificant for the fight against NCDs.
  • The participants concluded that NCDs are a threat to development that neither the developed nor developing worlds can afford. Additional research is needed to halt and reduce premature death from this cause. Cost-effective policy interventions need to be implemented to reduce people’s exposure to NCD risk factors and strengthen health care services for those with chronic diseases.

The United Nations summit will focus on the four main types of NCDs: cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and chronic lung diseases. They are responsible for more than 60% of global deaths (35 million); 9 million of these deaths are premature (in people aged under 60 years). Deaths from NCDs can largely be prevented by low-cost measures targeting four key risk factors: tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, poor diet and physical inactivity.

Globally, NCDs heavily affect developing countries, particularly the poorest, which have weaker health systems, poverty and lower protection against the risk factors. As a result, marked increases in prevalence are projected. In Africa, deaths from NCDs are expected to increase by around 25% by 2020.

In the WHO European Region, NCDs annually account for more than 8 million deaths (over 80% of all deaths in the Region), including 1.5 million premature deaths. Three out of four premature deaths from NCDs in the European Region (1.1 million) occur in low- and middle-income countries.

“The challenge posed by NCDs is not one just for the health sector alone to tackle, but for all sectors to fight together, including foreign affairs, development cooperation, urban planning, finance, education and transport,” says Dr Ala Alwan, Assistant Director-General for Health Action in Crises at WHO headquarters. “More and more people are dying and suffering from these diseases, which are causing enormous health and economic impacts globally. In particular, poor and vulnerable people are affected in the world’s poorest countries.”

The European consultation was attended by ministers and officials from health, finance and foreign affairs ministries of the 53 countries in the WHO European Region.

With questions about the event, please contact:

Paul Garwood
Communications Officer, WHO headquarters
Tel.: +41 22 791 3462, +41 79 4755 546 (mobile)

Zsofia Szilagyi
Communications Adviser, WHO Regional Office for Europe
Tel.: +45 3917 1627, +45 2467 4846 (mobile)

Jon Bakkerud
Senior Adviser Communications
Norwegian Directorate of Health
Tel.: +47 9930 1211 (mobile)