Today, noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), mainly cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes represent a leading threat to human health and development. These four diseases are the world’s biggest killers, causing an estimated 35 million deaths each year – 60% of all deaths globally – with 80% in low- and middle-income countries. These diseases are preventable. Up to 80% of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes and over a third of cancers could be prevented by eliminating shared risk factors, mainly tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and the harmful use of alcohol.
Unless addressed, the mortality and disease burden from these health problems will continue to increase. WHO projects that, globally, NCD deaths will increase by 17% over the next ten years. The greatest increase will be seen in the African region (27%) and the Eastern Mediterranean region (25%). The highest absolute number of deaths will occur in the Western Pacifi c and South-East Asia regions. We have the right vision and knowledge to address these problems. Proven cost-effective strategies exist to prevent and control this growing burden.
However, high-level commitment and concrete action are often missing at the national level. NCD prevention and control programmes remain dramatically under-funded at the national and global levels and have been left off the global development agenda. Despite impacting the poorest people in low-income parts of the world and imposing a heavy burden on socioeconomic development, NCD prevention is currently absent from the Millennium Development Goals.
However, in all lowand middle-income countries and by any measure, NCDs account for a large enough share of the disease burden of the poor to merit a serious policy response. Working closely with Member States, WHO has, therefore, developed this Action Plan to prevent NCDs from occurring and to help the millions who are already affected to cope with these lifelong illnesses.
This Action Plan, endorsed at the Sixty-fi rst World Health Assembly in May 2008, is based on the sound vision of the Global Strategy for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases, endorsed at the Fifty-third World Health Assembly in May 2000. It also aims to build on the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and the WHO Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health. The Action Plan provides Member States, WHO, and the international community with a roadmap to establish and strengthen initiatives for the surveillance, prevention and management of NCDs.
Furthermore, the Action Plan highlights the pressing need to invest in NCD prevention as an integral part of sustainable socioeconomic development. NCD prevention is an all-government responsibility. Considerably more gains can be achieved by infl uencing policies of non-health sectors than by health policies alone. All stakeholders will need to intensify and harmonize their efforts to avert these preventable conditions and to save millions from suffering needlessly and dying prematurely.