WHO urges stronger action to reduce deaths from noncommunicable diseases in Europe by one third

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Liuba Negru
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WHO Regional Office for Europe
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WHO Regional Office for Europe
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Press release

Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, 9 April 2019

WHO “best buys” – targeted policy interventions aimed at reducing the burden of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) – can be a game-changer for achieving target 3.4 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), through which governments have committed to reducing premature deaths from NCDs by one third by 2030. The interventions range from policies that promote physical activity and curb tobacco and alcohol consumption, to reducing salt and sugar and eliminating trans-fats in food. The actions countries can take to achieve the target will be in focus at the WHO European High-level Conference on Noncommunicable Diseases taking place in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, on 9–10 April 2019.

“NCDs are the leading cause of death in the Region, and pose a massive barrier to economic and social development. While Europe is the only WHO region in the world where premature deaths from NCDs are decreasing fast enough currently to meet the target, it is also where the highest rates of alcohol and tobacco consumption are found globally. Many more lives could be saved by implementing the WHO best buys. Countries have these effective policies at their fingertips yet implementation is sadly lacking,” said Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe.

NCDs – such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and diabetes – account for nearly 90% of deaths and 84% of ill-health in Europe and put increasing strain on the well-being of the population, the health systems working to treat patients, and the overall economic development of the Region, as well as increasing inequity. This burden continues to rise disproportionately in low- and lower-middle-income countries.

Closing the east–west divide in reducing NCDs

“The best buys are measures which are known to curb rates of disability and death from NCDs. The rate of implementation of the best buys is increasing in Europe, but there is still great room for improvement. We have the tools – it is now time to deliver. By implementing these interventions, countries can hope to close the health divide in Europe and achieve SDG 3.4 to reduce premature deaths from NCDs by 33% by 2030,” said Dr Bente Mikkelsen, Director of the Division of Noncommunicable Diseases and Promoting Health through the Life-course.

Closing the divide between NCD rates in eastern and western parts of the Region will reduce premature mortality rates significantly overall and reduce the significant inequities. For example, the risk of dying from cardiovascular diseases is 2–3 times higher for men born in the eastern part of the Region. However, by implementing the best buys countries can dramatically reduce this risk through interventions targeting the consumption of food high in salt, sugar and fats, use of tobacco and alcohol, as well as by strengthening their health systems.