Non-Communicable Diseases: time to pay attention to the silent killer

The NCD Alliance appeals to world leaders and development agencies to fund non-communicable diseases in least developed countries which are starved of the resources to act.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) - namely cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes - cause 60% of all global deaths, but receive just 2.3% of international development assistance for health. 80% of deaths caused by NCDs occur in developing countries. Yet, the international community displays no sense of urgency or outrage about NCDs, the silent killer that is threatening development and economic progress.

These are the messages the NCD Alliance is delivering to the global development community at the European Development Days, a global forum being held in Brussels featuring prominent world leaders and more than 400 international development agencies and donors.

The glaring omission of NCDs from the global development agenda is reflected in the programme of the EU forum, with the biggest killer in the world failing to get a mention at this important international development forum. For this reason the NCD Alliance - comprised of the International Diabetes Federation, the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union), the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), and the World Heart Federation (WHF) - is filling this gap by holding a side-session on NCDs in least developed countries.

"Low-income countries are facing a growing burden of NCDs which are derailing progress and threatening already vulnerable health systems," IDF President Jean Claude Mbanya told the EU forum. "The time for the world to act on NCDs is now."

The neglect of NCDs will be satirized in the NCD Alliance session as ‘the elephant in the room' that the international development community chooses to ignore. An NCD elephant in the room will quite literally be present for the discussion on this major cause of poverty and serious threat to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

The panel, made up of IDF President Jean Claude Mbanya, IDF CEO and Chair of the NCD Alliance Steering Group Ann Keeling, and WHO Health Systems Adviser Badara Samb, will assess the current challenges of the global NCD epidemic, and look ahead to September 2011 when the United Nations will hold a UN High Level Summit on this neglected health and development issue.

The World Health Organization projects that NCD deaths will increase globally by 17% over the next ten years. The greatest increase will be in the African region (27%) and the Eastern Mediterranean region (25%). The highest absolute number of deaths will occur in the Western Pacific and South-East Asia regions.

NCDs have a severe impact on individuals, communities and countries, undermining the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The omission of NCDs from the MDGs targets has been a critical barrier to securing donor funding for NCDs, which cause 8 million premature deaths every year in low and middle-income countries.

"Currently, donor countries are operating a policy ban on funding NCDs, thereby starving low-income governments of the financial and technical assistance needed to turn around the NCD epidemic. This policy has to change, with overseas development assistance aligned to the priorities of recipient countries,” said Professor Mbanya.

In May 2010, United Nations member states unanimously voted in favour of a High Level Summit on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) to be held in September 2011 in New York. A similar UN summit on HIV/AIDS in 2001 proved to be a turning point for the disease, resulting in significant funding and political commitment to a coordinated action plan.

"The magnitude and rapid spread of NCDs means we are all headed for a sick future unless we take action now. Low-income countries still grappling with heavy burdens of infectious disease risk being overwhelmed by this wave of largely preventable NCDs," IDF CEO Ann Keeling, who also chairs the NCD Alliance Steering Group, told key stakeholders and the media.

"We are working to ensure the upcoming UN Summit will take global action to a new level: raising the profile of too-long neglected NCDs, mobilizing the international community, securing commitments from Heads of State, and sending a clear message to international donors on the importance of tackling NCDs," Ms Keeling said.

The NCD Alliance has published a Plan of Action for the UN NCD Summit which outlines a coordinated programme of work to be undertaken by civil society and partners in the coming months. It calls on governments to allocate more resources to improve NCD early detection, diagnosis, treatment and care and integrate NCDs into health systems strengthening. Specifically, the UN Summit should reinforce the importance of governments implementing the full obligations contained in the World Health Organization’s 2008-2013 Action Plan for the Global Strategy for the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases and Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

"The UN Summit is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address NCDs. We either use it or lose it," said Professor Mbanya. "The 'NCD blindness' of the international community must end. NCDs are a development problem impacting upon the lives and wellbeing of the bottom billion poorest people. We know what to do - we have cost-effective solutions for preventing and treating NCDs. Now we need resources and the global political will for action," he added.


Notes to Editor

For more information, please contact:

Nancy Matos, Communications Officer
International Diabetes Federation
Email: [email protected]
Tel: +32 492 817785


Rahul Venkit, Multimedia Specialist
International Diabetes Federation
Email: [email protected]
Tel: +32 (2) 679 5582

About the International Diabetes Federation
The International Diabetes Federation is an umbrella organization of over 200 member associations in more than 160 countries, representing 285 million people with diabetes, their families, and their healthcare providers. The mission of IDF is to promote diabetes care, prevention and a cure worldwide.

About the World Heart Federation
The World Heart Federation is dedicated to leading the global fight against heart disease and stroke with a focus on low- and middle-income countries via a united community of more than 200 member organizations. With its members, the World Heart Federation works to build global commitment to addressing cardiovascular health at the policy level, generates and exchanges ideas, shares best practice, advances scientific knowledge and promotes knowledge transfer to tackle cardiovascular disease – the world’s number one killer. WHF brings together the strength of medical societies and heart foundations from more than 100 countries. Through our collective efforts we can help people all over the world to lead longer and better heart-healthy lives -

About the Union for International Cancer Control
The Union for International Cancer Control unites 360 member organizations in over 100 countries in the global fight against cancer. It is the leading international non-governmental organization dedicated exclusively to the global control of cancer. UICC is working towards a vision of a dynamic global community of connected cancer control organizations, professionals and volunteers working together to eliminate cancer as a major life-threatening disease for future generations -

About the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union)
The mission of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union) is to bring innovation, expertise, solutions and support to address health challenges in low- and middle-income populations. Founded in 1920, The Union today is both a non-profit institute with five scientific departments and 14 offices worldwide and a federation of close to 3,000 organisations and individuals who are committed to the same goals. Its scientific departments focus on tuberculosis, HIV, lung health and non-communicable diseases, tobacco control and research; and each engages in research, provides technical assistance and offers training and other capacity-building activities leading to health solutions for the poor -

Brussels, Belgium
Monday, December 6, 2010