Can Europe exceed the global target and reduce premature mortality by 45%?

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Press release

Copenhagen and Moscow, 8 June 2017

WHO convenes a meeting of experts in Moscow to assess progress and opportunities in tackling cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases

Over the past decade, markedly fewer people have died prematurely in the WHO European Region. The decline is considerable, and illuminates a hope that Europe can exceed the bold target of Sustainable Development Goal 3.4 to reduce premature deaths from noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) by 33% by 2030.

The Region can look forward to nearly halving premature deaths through concerted action to accelerate NCD prevention and control. Policy measures such as taxation and the control of high blood pressure effectively reduce the risk of dying from cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases, and many countries are adopting such policies. However, the picture is not uniform across the Region.

“Tackling cardiovascular diseases in Europe has been a success story, with almost all countries showing a decline in deaths,” says Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “While we have achieved a lot, more needs to be done to close the fundamental divide in Europe. Many countries have the potential to make rapid gains by addressing the excess deaths from heart attack and stroke – especially among the men in our Region. We now have technologies, evidence, mandates and experience to leverage countries with a high burden, opening huge opportunities for accelerating public health gains.”

Closing the east–west divide in reducing NCDs

Achieving a 45% reduction in premature mortality means closing the divide between NCD rates in 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 figures reveal that men have a much higher risk of dying from cardiovascular diseases than women, and that this risk is 2–3 times higher for men born in the eastern part of the Region. However, countries can dramatically reduce this risk through targeted interventions, specifically lowering salt consumption, making the control of blood pressure a norm in primary care, and investing in acute emergency services for myocardial infarct and stroke.

WHO has identified a set of so-called best buys, or cost-effective, high-impact interventions that influence all NCDs and their risk factors and thus lead to major public health improvements for both men and women. “The best buys include raising taxes on tobacco and alcohol, reducing salt consumption, eliminating trans fat in the food supply chain, and promoting physical activity – measures which are known to curb rates of disease, disability and death, as well as reducing inequity. By exploiting these, the European Region can do much to close the fundamental health divide in Europe,” states Dr Gauden Galea, Director of the Division of Noncommunicable Diseases and Promoting Health through the Life-course at the WHO Regional Office for Europe.

Doing better for the people of Europe: WHO conference in Moscow

The WHO European Meeting of National NCD Directors and Programme Managers: Towards the Third Decade takes place on 8–9 June 2017 in Moscow, Russian Federation. It convenes policy-makers and experts from across the 53 countries of the Region to assess opportunities to accelerate progress in reducing premature deaths from NCDs.

Participants will focus on how the experiences of those countries that have achieved a decline in deaths can spur others to accelerate progress towards the global target of a 33% reduction – and to consider exceeding that target, since they have the means and the momentum to do so. Success stories and visionary scenarios presented in Moscow will be further synthesized in preparation for the 3rd United Nations High-level Meeting on NCDs, scheduled in 2018.