New WHO/Europe centre on noncommunicable diseases opens in Athens

Athens and Copenhagen, 23 September 2011

At a ceremony today in Athens, Greece, a new centre on noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) was opened by Andreas Loverdos, Minister of Health and Social Solidarity of Greece, and Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe.

NCDs – such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes – account for over 86% of deaths and 77% of the disease burden in the WHO European Region, and currently arouse much international concern. Last week, WHO/Europe’s governing body, comprising representatives of the 53 countries in the WHO European Region, endorsed a European action plan to combat these killer diseases; this week, the United Nations General Assembly high-level meeting on the subject adopted a declaration of countries’ determination to reduce them.

“The Athens centre will make a big difference to the European Region,” said Zsuzsanna Jakab. “The public health measures required to reduce NCDs have been studied for many years now. Some are familiar and proven; others are innovative. They cut across society, and include policies from many sectors. This centre will benefit the health of the people of 53 countries in our Region, including those of Greece.”

“As I said at the meeting of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe last week,” said Andreas Loverdos, “I am the minister for health, not illness. We are in business to keep our population healthy, whatever pressures they are under. This centre will help to do that.”

The Athens centre will bring together expertise on NCDs to support countries that are implementing the new action plan for implementation of the European Strategy for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases 2012–2016. At times of uncertainty, rates of NCDs are likely to rise, but many countries are lowering rates of heart disease and other NCDs, sometimes in the face of recession. The main aims are to prevent disease in the first place and, if this fails, to ensure that it is diagnosed and treated early and effectively. NCDs’ rising cost to society is well documented, a situation compounded by an ageing population. Dealing with NCDs and their risk factors takes a significant proportion of a country’s gross domestic product, while sufferers and their carers may face treatment costs, reduced income, early retirement and increased reliance on welfare support. Employers and society as a whole bear the burden of work absenteeism, reduced productivity and increased employee turnover.

The action plan contains a raft of affordable and cost-effective measures, some of which can benefit not only the public but also governments. They range from taxing tobacco and alcohol, replacing trans fats with polyunsaturated fats in processed food, and reducing salt consumption, to improving services for diabetes and heart disease, and the detection and treatment of cancer. Many of the causes of NCD lie in sectors other than health: food, transport, environment and education, for example. Addressing the problem requires many different contributions from across government, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the private sector and individuals. The new Athens centre will be a hub of activity to bring these sectors together to fight death and disease.

In addition to the WHO Regional Director for Europe and the Minister of Health and Social Solidarity, those present at the opening of the centre included Mr A. Demopoulos, General Secretary of Public Health, Ministry of Health and Social Solidarity; Mrs. J. Kremastinou, Head of the Hellenic Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (HCDCP); Dr V. Georgoulias, Professor of Medical Oncology, School of Medicine of the University of Crete and Head of the Hellenic Association of Oncologists–Pathologists; and three WHO/Europe staff members: Dr G. Galea, Director, Division of Noncommunicable Diseases and Health Promotion, Mr A. Nanda, Senior Strategy and Policy Adviser to the Regional Director, and Dr A. Tsouros, Programme Manager, Integrated Prevention, Control and Management of Noncommunicable Diseases.

For more information, please contact:

Tina Kiaer
Communication Officer
Tel.: +45 24 91 08 44 (mobile)

Viv Taylor Gee
Communications Adviser
Tel.: + 45 39 17 12 31, + 45 22 72 36 91(mobile)