World Health Assembly: A Time For Renewed Commitment to Reducing NCDs

This post was authored by John Gordon Harold, MD, MACC, former ACC President.

This week, I have the privilege to be part of the delegation representing the ACC in Geneva, Switzerland, at the 68th session of the World Health Assembly where officials from 194 Member States are reviewing the World Health Organization’s (WHO) activities over the past year and setting new priorities for the future.

The main functions of the World Health Assembly under the auspices of the United Nations (UN) are to determine the policies of the WHO and focus on critical topics in global health. (In fact, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who now presides over the G-7, kicked off today’s plenary session speaking to the challenges of this very subject.) The assembly will focus on ongoing efforts to lower the number of patients with non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including cardiovascular disease. NCDs cause 63 percent of global death, with cardiovascular disease making up the highest proportion, yet receive disproportionately small funding from global aid networks – less than 1.3 percent by most recent estimates.  Worldwide, 80 percent of death from NCDs are in low and middle-income countries. Left unchecked, it is estimated that NCDs will be responsible for 73 percent of all deaths by 2020. Yet, so many of these deaths are preventable through education and a focus on closing gaps in care across populations.  (For more on this topic, see the ACC in Touch Blog from the landmark 2011 UN Summit on NCDs.)

The ongoing galvanization of global stakeholders over the last several years to address NCD issues is having an impact. Special sessions this week will highlight just how far we’ve come in the areas of   critical NCD-related topics like reducing cardiovascular mortality through prevention and management of blood pressure; rheumatic heart disease in adolescents; the emerging global burden of cardiometabolic risk factors; and connections between nutrition, health and development. These sessions will also set the stage for conversations around how to best deliver on the WHO’s global target of a 25 percent reduction in premature mortality from NCDs by 2025 – known as “25 by 25.” As a member of the World Heart Federation and NCD Alliance, the ACC is working with other medical societies around the world to support this “25 by 25” target, as well as corresponding NCD targets focused on high blood pressure, smoking cessation, diabetes, obesity, and reliable access to medicines.

It is meetings like the World Health Assembly that remind us just what is at stake if don’t work together to address NCDs. These meetings also provide a place to gain perspective and renewed energy to solve a problem that can at times feel insurmountable. In an aptly timed JACC Leadership Page on the topic of population health, ACC President Kim Alan Williams Sr. writes that the ACC has a real role to play in the NCD effort—as well as overall efforts to close gaps in cardiovascular care in communities around the world. “With nearly 50,000 members around the globe; a growing network of domestic and international chapters with networks on the ground in countless states, countries, and provinces; and strong partnerships with other medical specialty societies and government agencies, the College can have an effect that few other medical societies can deliver,” he writes. “If we can work together to increase international participation in educational activities, encourage global use and exchange of data, and raise public awareness about cardiovascular disease and its risk factors, progress is well within our grasp.”

That’s a powerful impact!

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