UN Aims to Prevent, Control Noncommunicable Diseases

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently welcomed the adoption of the United Nations General Assembly resolution on the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases—mainly cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes—which kill nearly 35 million people each year, including almost 9 million before the age of 60.

The resolution seeks to halt the increasing trends in premature deaths from noncommunicable diseases worldwide.

"There is a sense of urgency," said WHO Assistant Director-General Dr. Ala Alwan. "This resolution will help us increase action to address the leading cause of death in the world. Tackling these diseases constitutes one of the major challenges for sustainable development in the 21st century."

The resolution calls to:

  • convene a high-level meeting of the General Assembly in September 2011, with the participation of heads of state and government, on the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases;
  • include at the high-level Plenary Meeting in September 2010 to review the Millennium Development Goals discussions on the rising incidence and the socioeconomic impact of noncommunicable diseases in developing countries;
  • request the UN secretary-general to prepare a global status report on noncommunicable diseases, with a particular focus on the developmental challenges faced by developing countries.

Noncommunicable diseases are the leading cause of death for women in middle- and high-income countries and the second leading cause of death for women in low-income countries. Almost 90 percent of fatalities before the age of 60 occur in developing countries and can be largely prevented by reducing the level of exposure to tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and the harmful use of alcohol, and improve early detection of breast and cervical cancers, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

While noncommunicable disease death rates in many high-income countries have stabilized or declined in recent decades, research suggests noncommunicable disease deaths are increasing in all regions of the world. If trends continue unabated, deaths will rise to an estimated 41.2 million a year by 2015.

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