James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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UN Summit on Noncommunicable Diseases

by James M. Lindsay
September 13, 2011

The United Nations logo is displayed on a door at U.N. headquarters in New York February 26, 2011. The U.N. Security Council plans to vote on Saturday on a draft resolution that would slap sanctions on Libya's leaders and refer the recent violence to the International Criminal Court, diplomats said. REUTERS/ Joshua Lott (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)

The United Nations logo displayed on a door at the U.N. headquarters in New York. (Joshua Lott/courtesy Reuters)

Next Monday the United Nations will host its first ever High-Level Meeting on Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs) The goal of the two-day summit is to discuss strategies to prevent and control NCDs such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Member nations are already debating a draft UN declaration on NCDs and advocacy groups are assailing the draft statement’s lack of an overarching goal in reducing NCD related deaths.

Why the global interest in NCDs? You might think they are a rich country problem. Not any more they aren’t. In the United States, life expectancy is stagnating or declining for segments of the population because of cancer, high blood pressure, and obesity. But NCDs are a fast growing problem in developing countries as well—they are now responsible for 73 percent of all deaths in China and 40 percent of all deaths in India. Although NCDs currently account for only 23 percent of all deaths in sub-Saharan Africa, the World Health Organization estimates that this figure could top 40 percent in a few years. Moreover, many poor countries suffer a dual burden of disease: their rates of NCDs are growing while infectious diseases remain endemic.

NCDs carry a big price tag. In the United States, for example, the direct costs of NCDs are estimated to run nearly $300 billion a year—that’s an amount roughly equal to Argentina’s total GDP. The indirect economic costs of NCDs are even more significant as chronic diseases reduce worker productivity and hamper economic growth. Economists estimate that cardiovascular diseases depress GDP growth in poor countries by 1 to 5 percent per year. And because the incidence of NCDs increases with aging, their economic and human toll will grow substantially in coming decades as the world’s population ages.

My colleagues Laurie Garrett, Tom Bollyky, Yanzhong Huang, and Michael Hodin have done a lot of work on NCDs. Tom did a guest post on TWE last month about a piece he did on “Forging a New Trade Policy on Tobacco.” Here is some other CFR content on NCDs that you might find informative:

  • CFR’s library has compiled a list of research resources on NCDs.
  • CFR’s IIIGG program has devoted a component of its acclaimed Global Governance Monitor to global health. IIGG plans to release an update next week that focuses specifically on NCDs.
  • Yanzhong Huang wrote a nice piece on “The Fight Against Chronic Disease.”
  • CFR held a meeting in July on the issues at stake at the summit. Nils Daulaire, the U.S. representative to the Executive Board of the World Health Organization, and Derek Yach, who directs health and agricultural policy for PepsiCo, discussed current U.S. policy on NCDs and what the international community can do about them.
  • Michael Hodin has spoken about the economic burdens of an aging population, and in particular, the cost of diseases associated with longer lives.
  • A CFR.org backgrounder entitled “Global Action on Non-Communicable Diseases” reviews the data on the rising rates of NCDs and discusses expectations for the summit.
  • Laurie Garret will almost certainly be tweeting about the summit. If you aren’t following her on Twitter, you should be. Her handle is: @Laurie_Garrett.

What other background resources on the High-Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases would you recommend?

Post a Comment 1 Comment

  • Posted by Andy Liu

    Thank you for the great post! The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has committed to addressing the NCD issue throughout the Western Hemisphere in the years to come. PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses also blogged about the historic opportunity brought by this UN Summit for us all to boost the world’s awareness and commitment to confronting the epidemic of NCDs and to achieve health for all. http://new.paho.org/blogs/wellnessweek/index.php?p=186

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