This week marks the anniversary of last year’s United Nations High Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases. Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) include diabetes, heart disease, cancer and chronic lung disease. Together, these deadly diseases kill more people each year than AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and all other causes combined—accounting for two out of every three deaths around the world.
Last year’s high-level meeting was a wake-up call for all of us. Right now, more than 366 million people worldwide have diabetes, and unless we take immediate and decisive action, that number is expected to grow to more than 552 million by the year 2030. NCDs account for 36 million deaths each year. These deaths take place around the globe; no one and no country is immune.
The good news is that these diseases are largely preventable. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 80 percent of heart disease and type 2 diabetes and up to 40 percent of cancers can be prevented by maintaining a healthy lifestyle: by avoiding tobacco, limiting alcohol use, being physically active and eating healthfully.
It was my honor to represent the American Diabetes Association and civil society at last September’s UN meeting. It was an educational and inspirational experience. After the meeting, I posed three key points that I felt needed to be addressed in order to make a dent in the “slow-moving hurricane” of NCDs. At this one-year anniversary, I’d like to look back on the past year and see where we are now and what we’ve accomplished.
Last September, I suggested that we needed to:
1. Raise awareness of the problem of NCDs. Over the past year, the American Diabetes Association has engaged more than a million people in the movement to Stop Diabetes. We’re working ceaselessly to prevent and cure diabetes and to improve the lives of all people affected by diabetes. We do this by funding research to prevent, cure and manage diabetes; delivering services to hundreds of communities nationwide; providing objective and credible information and advocating for those denied their rights because of diabetes.
2. Work together. To address the huge global issue of NCDs we must work together and speak with one voice. The Association is pleased to continue our robust partnership with the American Cancer Society and American Heart Association, and to work closely with the International Diabetes Federation, the Non-Communicable Disease Alliance, the United States government and other non-governmental collaborators in the battle against NCDs. We attended the World Health Assembly in Geneva this past May and lent our voice to those calling for specific, measurable targets in decreasing non-communicable diseases. We were thrilled when the United States government led the way proposing these targets, and we continue to work with the government and other partners to advocate for realistic, achievable metrics.
3. Third, I said that we need to make the case for and support economic intervention. These are tough times and it’s hard to convince folks that we need to spend more on health care and, specifically, prevention. But the facts are that non-communicable diseases have the potential to slow countries’ economies even more over the next two decades. Last year a study by the World Economic Forum and the Harvard School of Public Health estimated that the four primary NCDs could cost countries up to $30 trillion over the next two decades. Fortunately, there are low-cost public health “best buys” that can save millions of dollars and prevent premature death and disease. A 2011 WHO report showed that the costs of implementing some key public health interventions, like tobacco control and salt reduction, are affordable in all countries and would cost just pennies per person per day.
These studies show that the costs of inaction far outweigh the cost of action. We need to support these interventions and encourage governments to adopt targets aimed at preventing and managing cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other non-communicable diseases.
Finally, I’ll add one more to the three calls to action I made a year ago. That is that we need to start locally. It’s easy to put off making changes or taking action and to leave it all in the hands of government. But there are things we can do right in our own communities, or even our own back yards. The ten targets we’re trying to encourage governments to adopt surround issues like reducing tobacco use and increasing healthy eating and physical activity.
What can you do in your neighborhood or community to support these efforts? Can you advocate for walkable communities and safe routes for children’s active transport to school? Can you plant community gardens and work to improve everyone’s access to healthy foods? How can you help those around you quit smoking or never start? These steps may seem small on a global scale, but their impact can be huge.
Other targets for managing non-communicable diseases include reducing harmful use of alcohol; managing blood pressure; lowering intake of salt; preventing obesity; eating less fat; managing your cholesterol and making essential medicines more available around the globe. Learn what you can do to prevent and manage non-communicable diseases and get started today.
In good health,
Larry Hausner, MBA
Chief Executive Officer
American Diabetes Association