08 December 2016

NCDs: global challenges and opportunities

Taking stock

The global burden of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) represents a crisis largely of our collective creation and poses a multitude of risks to everyone, everywhere. NCDs are the leading cause of mortality worldwide, with three in four of these deaths occurring in low and middle-income countries. A major contributor, almost two billion adults are now overweight or obese – more than four times the number underweight. An estimated 42 million children aged 5 years and under are overweight or obese - placing them at greater risk of lifelong ill-health, including from NCDs.

In many ways this global epidemic is an externality of the recent, rapid and redefining transitions of globalisation, urbanisation and economic growth. Combined, these have led to many good things, but also to a rise in key risk factors now pervasive to our modern societies; unhealthy diets, tobacco use, physical inactivity, environmental pollution and harmful alcohol use.

The prevalence of NCDs continues to grow at an alarming rate and through their chronic and often incurable nature, high costs of treatment and associations with poverty, NCDs represent a real and growing threat to micro- and macro-level prosperity. By 2010, NCDs were recognised as one of the top risks to our global economy.

The challenges posed by NCDs already extend beyond our health and hip-pockets. We should expect these to worsen should swift action continue to evade us.

New opportunities

When the United Nations (UN) launched the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, we saw recognition of international concern for the global NCD burden. SDG Target 3.4, which aims to reduce by one third premature mortality from NCDs by 2030, is the first global UN development goal or target focused on this group of diseases.

In April 2016, the UN General Assembly then declared 2016-2025 the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition. Representing a window for achievement on ending all forms of malnutrition – including obesity and the closely related NCDs – the decade is intimately aligned with existing global health targets. It will also act as an enabler for many other related and reliant SDGs beyond hunger, malnutrition and even health.

Together with the Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of NCDs, these two new developments provide a platform for a galvanised, multi-agent, multi-level approach to tackling NCDs.

Looking towards 2018

With a view to the 2018 UN High Level Meeting on NCDs, next year represents a crucial opportunity to identify both strengths and areas which require our attention as we strive towards our 2025 and 2030 goals and targets. Many countries are making progress, and successful policies and practises can be shared and scaled across Member States. For those lagging, this is the time for bold, progressive and impact-focused action.

As the dust settles from the Sustainable Development Goals declaration and the Nutrition Decade dawns, the 2018 meeting will also serve as a reminder of the commitments already made by countries and the importance of implementing NCD-related policies, including through the development and achievement of national NCD targets.

NCDs might represent a crisis of our collective creation – let’s instead make them a crisis we solve together.