U.S. Has Projects Underway to Help Reduce Chronic Diseases Around the World

Sep 21, 2011, 7:16 PM, Posted by

The U.S. sent some impressive firepower as part of its delegation to the United Nations High-level Meeting on non-communicable (also known as chronic) diseases that met this week in New York. The delegation included HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, M.D., M.P.H. and CDC Director Thomas Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. Additional delegation members included American Public Health Association Executive Director Georges Benjamin, M.D., and Risa Lavizzo-Mourrey, M.D., M.B.A., president and C.E.O. of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The U.N. meeting, the first high-level meeting on a health issue since a summit on AIDS ten years ago, was attended by more than 30 heads of state and at least 100 other senior ministers from around the world. The delegates adopted a declaration calling for a multi-pronged campaign by governments, industry and the public. The declaration calls for an international plan by 2013 to curb risk factors behind cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes.

Chronic Disease Surpasses Infectious Disease in Global Deaths

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) kill 35 million people each year and more people now die from these chronic diseases globally than from infectious diseases, according to the World Health Organization. The WHO also notes that the most prevalent diseases share common risk factors including tobacco use, unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, harmful use of alcohol, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

“Our collaboration is more than a public health necessity. Non-communicable diseases are a threat to development. NCDs hit the poor and vulnerable particularly hard, and drive them deeper into poverty,” said U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in a speech to the summit. The Secretary General said families are often pushed into poverty when a member becomes too weak to work or when the costs of medicines and treatments overwhelm the family budget. According to the WHO, deaths from NCDs will increase by 17 percent in the next decade, and in Africa, that number will jump by 24 percent.

CDC Chronic Disease Efforts Reach Across the Globe

The CDC has projects underway to help reduce the global burden of non-communicable diseases including field training for health workers, cancer screening initiatives, collaboration on sodium reduction strategies in China, initiatives to increase motorcycle helmet use, tobacco control assistance, collaboration on school-based student health surveys to help identify risk factors and promotion of physical activity.

CDC Director Thomas Frieden says the current global disease workforce is well suited to deal with both infectious and non-communicable diseases. “If they can handle T-cell counts to manage HIV, they can handle blood pressure readings,” said Dr. Frieden.

U.N. Foundation Looks to a Better Future

Former Colorado Senator Tim Worth, president of the United Nations Foundation said the focus put on non-communicable disease at the U.N. meeting this week will continue. “At next year’s General Assembly meeting, I expect to see a banner stressing the importance of prevention,” Worth says.

>>Read a Q&A with the Kaiser Family Foundation's Jennifer Kates on what the U.S. has to learn from global health.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.