WHO and European countries to discuss growing epidemic of noncommunicable diseases

Oslo, 24 November 2010

High-level representatives of almost 40 governments in the WHO European Region will meet in Norway tomorrow to strengthen efforts to prevent and control the epidemic of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).

The Oslo consultation, being held on 25–26 November 2010, is a milestone event ahead of the United Nations high-level meeting on NCDs, to be held in September 2011. In Oslo, governments can discuss Europe’s needs and perspectives and influence the global discussion.

The four most prominent NCDs – cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and chronic lung diseases – are recognized as the key health priority in the WHO European Region in this decade. NCDs account for 77% of the disease burden and 86% of all deaths in the 53 countries in the WHO European Region.

Tackling NCDs is a priority for every government, especially since they are often linked to common risk factors (including smoking, harmful use of alcohol, obesity and physical inactivity) that are largely preventable. The diseases also take a strong financial toll on Europe’s health systems and may threaten their viability. Further, NCDs constitute an economic burden, with health care costs, lost working time, and early death and disability threatening economic growth and productivity.

“We urgently need to address the growing epidemic of noncommunicable diseases in Europe and mobilize all sectors of society to build a truly large-scale, multisectoral response,” says Ms Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “European countries should play a leading role in the global effort to control this epidemic.”

Countries in the WHO European Region differ widely in population health and socioeconomic status. This translates into similarly inequitable exposure to risks that result in NCDs and to varying incidence of these diseases. Low- and middle-income countries in the eastern part of the Region are particularly and increasingly affected, according to some key health indicators.

The Oslo consultation will focus in particular on development challenges and will discuss the importance of tackling health inequities and social determinants of health.

“The considerable and emerging burden caused by NCDs is of great concern to policy-makers in Europe as well as worldwide,” says Mr Jonas Gahr Støre, Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs. “The United Nations global summit on NCDs and the WHO consultation in Oslo provide us with vital opportunities to discuss and share experiences in this field.”

WHO has focused on prioritizing NCDs in national health and development plans and initiatives since the adoption of the Global Strategy for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases in 2000, followed by an action plan to implement the Strategy in 2008–2013. Across the European Region, WHO and countries have pursued a European NCD strategy since 2006, as an integrated framework for action.

Nongovernmental organizations are also key partners in this process.

“Civil society plays a very important part in the Norwegian welfare state, and we are keen to hear their input on the NCD challenge,” says Ms Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen, Norwegian Minister of Health and Care Services. “The importance of close collaboration with civil society is for sure one of the experiences I would like to share with my international colleagues in regard to preventing and tackling NCDs.”

The Oslo consultation is hosted by the Norwegian government and co-sponsored by WHO, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA).

With questions about the event, please contact:

Paul Garwood
Communications Officer, WHO headquarters
Tel.: +41 22 791 3462
Mobile: +41 79 4755 546
E-mail: garwoodp@who.int

Zsofia Szilagyi
Communications Adviser, WHO Regional Office for Europe
Tel.: +45 3917 1627
Mobile: +45 2467 4846
E-mail: SZZ@euro.who.int

Jon Bakkerud
Senior Adviser Communications
Norwegian Directorate of Health
Mobile: +47 9930 1211
E-mail: job@helsedirektoratet.no