WHO Europe launches new action plan for noncommunicable diseases, appeals for urgent joint policy action to achieve global goals and targets

For further information, contact:

Tina Kiaer
Communications Officer
WHO Regional Office for Europe
UN City, Marmorvej 51
2100 Copenhagen Ø, Denmark
Mobile: +45 30 36 37 36 (portable)
Email: kiaert@who.int

Jill Farrington
Technical Officer
Noncommunicable Diseases and Promoting Health through the Life-course
WHO Regional Office for Europe
UN City, Marmorvej 51
2100 Copenhagen Ø, Denmark
Mobile: +45 21 52 30 50
Email: farringtonj@who.int

Copenhagen, 6 September 2016

The WHO European Region has made progress in key areas of noncommunicable disease (NCD) control: death rates from cardiovascular disease (CVD) continue to decline, the clear downward trend in smoking continues, and alcohol intake is steadily decreasing. However, this overall European picture masks significant differences within and between countries and population groups; WHO/Europe estimates that the Region will fall short of the global goals of reducing tobacco use and physical inactivity and simply fail to halt the rise in obesity unless action is accelerated.

“We know that managing noncommunicable diseases and conditions can unlock unimaginable health gains. Actions taken today by the whole of government will determine whether countries succeed in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). People who will die in middle age in 2030 from preventable causes are young adults today. There could not be a greater sense of urgency if we want to prolong lives,” said WHO Regional Director for Europe, Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab. “Tackling cardiovascular disease (CVD) is one example of the need for joined-up policy action. CVD is the leading cause of premature mortality within the European Region. Reducing this burden requires focusing on population-level, targeted approaches across a wide range of issues – tobacco control, alcohol control, reducing  consumption of salt and saturated and trans fats, and hypertension control.” Dr Jakab continued.

Need for increased focus on management of noncommunicable disease

Although population-level interventions and improvements in health care contribute considerably to the declining mortality rates in many countries, there is vast room for improvement in both areas. For example, better detection and control of raised blood pressure and high cholesterol at population level could have immediate effect – yet these conditions are diagnosed, treated and controlled in only a fraction of the general population identified as being at high risk.  In addition, although cardiac rehabilitation programmes assist in recovery from heart attacks and stroke, improve quality of life and reduce the likelihood of further illness, cardiac rehabilitation and secondary prevention are among the most under-used interventions. For instance, only half of all coronary patients are advised to participate in a secondary prevention and/or rehabilitation programme.

Accelerating health gains through a shared risk factor approach

The WHO European Region will launch a new action plan for NCDs at the Regional Committee meeting in Copenhagen in September 2016. The plan outlines actions to considerably reduce the burden of NCDs, improve quality of life and make healthy life expectancy more equitable. For example, many conditions are not detected early enough for effective treatment: 30–40% of cancers in eastern Europe have already spread by the time they are diagnosed. Some cancers can be diagnosed early by raising the awareness of the general public and professionals of the early signs and symptoms. In addition to early detection of NCDs, the action plan advocates the use of fiscal policies and marketing restrictions to promote healthy eating, reformulating food products so that trans fats are eliminated and saturated fats are replaced by unsaturated fats, reducing salt and sugar without adding harmful alternatives and increasing physical activity and reducing sedentary behaviour through health system and environmental modifications.

The plan also highlights how gains in one area benefit other conditions. Achieving the SDGs requires focusing on a broader set of risk factors and determinants, particularly unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, overweight and obesity and two new elements of the NCD action plan: air pollution and early detection and management of disease.

The WHO NCD project office based in the Russian Federation is initiating action in 23 countries, representing a major increase in capacity to address NCDs in the European Region. It is expected to lead the Region in using evidence-based best practices and to promote an intersectoral approach to communicating policy and sharing information. Priorities will be based on the NCD action plan, which can be seen as an important milestone on the way to the UN General Assembly in 2018, where the achievements of the UN Declaration of 2011 will be reviewed.