Third United Nations High-Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases: A Turning Point for Action on Chronic Diseases?

On the 27th of September, Heads of State and Government from across the continents will gather in New York City to review progress on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) for the first time in the light of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This landmark meeting could be a decisive step in the response to chronic diseases globally and an occasion for the European Union to show leadership and commitment to dramatically decrease the burden of these diseases in Europe by 2030.

Chronic diseases, or Non-Communicable diseases (NCDs), such as heart and lung diseases, cancers, and diabetes remain the major cause of deaths in Europe, resulting in the premature death of 500,000 people of working-age in the EU each year[1]. Mortality from these diseases account for €115 billion economic loss annually for EU economies[2].

Important progress has been made when it comes to addressing risk factors and treating NCDs, but there is still room for improvement in prevention and management, as demonstrated by the latest European Commission-OECD reports part of the “State of Health in the EU” cycle.

“Prevention is better than cure” 

Health promotion and disease prevention are key to more effective and efficient health systems, reducing premature mortality from chronic diseases and ensuring a healthy future for European children. Despite evidence supporting prevention systems, they still represent small fractions of the healthcare budgets in most EU countries.

The new Best Practices Portal, launched by the Commission in April 2018, as well as the work of the Steering Group on Promotion and Prevention, mark the Commission’s willingness to support Member States “move from reflection to action,” by enhancing the implementation of existing, evidence-based good practices to address risk factors and social determinants of health. They come in addition to the efforts carried out via the CHRODIS Plus Joint Action or the EU Action Plan on Childhood Obesity 2014-2020. 

Towards a fighting, fit EU population 

A few weeks ago, the World Health Organisation (WHO) adopted a new Global Action Plan on Physical Activity, providing a framework with recommended measures to intensify action until 2030, in alignment with the shared goals and political priorities of the Sustainable Development Agenda 2030. The Plan is timely, ahead of the High-Level Meeting in September and with obesity being a leading risk factor for chronic diseases. Recommended policy interventions aim to instill a “culture of exercise” creating active societies, environments, and systems where actors in many sectors beyond health have a role to play: from transport, infrastructure or tourism, to education, digital technology or urban design, which has the potential to deliver on many of the SDGs, in addition to goal three on health and wellbeing. This Plan is appropriately ambitious, with Europe ranking the second highest in proportion of overweight or obese people in 2014 worldwide according to the WHO, and as much as half of the EU population aged 18 or over report never exercising or playing sport[3].

Now eyes are turning to the September UN Meeting, co-facilitated by Italy and Uruguay. Civil society and other stakeholders will be closely watching the outcomes of the discussions with high expectations. The recent report “Time to Deliver” of the WHO Independent High-Level Commission on NCDs sent a clear message for the meeting to governments: don’t fall short on action.

As the zero draft outcome document for the meeting is now out, negotiations are commencing and will continue in the coming months, fueled with a civil society interactive hearing on the 5th of July.

On the EU front, this global rallying point could be the occasion to demonstrate the European added-value of EU health policy and collaboration, advancing towards a Europe virtually free of chronic diseases.

Find more information on the UN High-Level Meeting on NCDs here.

[1] OECD/EU (2016), Health at a Glance: Europe 2016 – State of Health in the EU Cycle, OECD Publishing, Paris.

[2] See source 1

[3] Special Eurobarometer 472 on sport and physical activity. March 2018


Bénédicte Faure

Senior Consultant

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