Hemispheric health coalition targets region’s noncommunicable diseases

A group of agencies concerned about the burden of noncommunicable diseases on human and economic development in the Americas has launched a new task force to accelerate prevention and control.

“Cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes and chronic lung diseases are the leading killers in the Americas and around the world, and tackling them requires collective efforts and multisectoral approaches, such as the alliance we are launching today,” said Carissa F. Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization.

Pan American Health will chair the new Inter-American Task Force and  work collaboratively with the Organization of American States and other partners including the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture, the Inter-American Development Bank, the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and the World Bank.

The task force will support countries in Latin America and the Caribbean with policy advice, technical assistance, resource mobilization and capacity-building while also facilitating a common and harmonized approach, optimal use of resources, and networking and information exchange among agencies of the Inter-American system and partner institutions to ensure maximum impact.

Noncommunicable diseases, also known as chronic diseases, are diseases of long duration and generally slow progression.

In the Americas, some 4.5 million die each year from them. This figure represents more than 80 percent of all deaths, of which 36 percent are premature, that is, occurring in people under age 70. If no action is taken, deaths and disabilities from this silent epidemic are expected to increase, along with the burden they place on health systems and national economies.

Most deaths from noncommunicable diseases are related to common risk factors, principally tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity. Exposure to these risk factors can be modified through policies and actions, said Pan-American Health.

The agency said that these include policies for universal health coverage and universal social protection, incentives to increase production and availability of healthy foods, educating children about healthy eating and physical activity, and urban planning that promotes public spaces for recreation and physical activity.

They also include legislation and regulations intended to reduce consumption of tobacco, alcohol, salt, sugar and trans fats–measures that are considered best buys due to their cost-effectiveness, the agency added.

The global cost of implementing these best buys is estimated at $11.2 billion, representing an annual investment of only $1-$3 per person.

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