Caribbean health ministers reach agreement on noncommunicable diseases

Sunday, May 27, 2018

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GENEVA, Switzerland (CMC) — The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) says Caribbean health ministers and other delegates participating in the 71st World Health Assembly have reached agreements on noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and tuberculosis, two diseases that will be addressed at the United Nations High-Level Meeting in September of this year.

PAHO said representatives of the Member States also considered the World Health Organization’s (WHO) five-year strategic action plan on polio transition.

In addition, delegates endorsed a resolution urging cholera-affected countries to implement a roadmap that aims to reduce deaths from the disease, PAHO said.

It said Caribbean health ministers and other World Health Assembly delegates called for increased action in the global fight to beat NCDs, including urging for participation by heads of state and government at the Third United Nations General Assembly High-level Meeting on the Prevention and Control of NCDs on September 27, 2018.

Member States reiterated that the international community has committed, in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), to reduce by one-third, by 2030, premature deaths from NCDs, primarily cardiovascular disease, cancers, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases, and to promote mental health and wellbeing.

Each year, PAHO said 15 million people, aged 30 to 70 years die from an NCD.

It said the current levels of decline in risk of premature death from NCDs are “insufficient to meet the SDG NCD target.”

“The Assembly recognized that enhanced political leadership is needed to accelerate prevention and control of NCDs, such as by implementing cost-effective and feasible ‘best buys’ and other recommended interventions to prevent and control NCDs,” PAHO said.

It said these measures include actions to reduce the main disease risks, namely tobacco use, physical inactivity, harmful use of alcohol and unhealthy diets, as well as air pollution.

“Health systems must be strengthened by implementing effective measures that better detect people at risk of NCDs, and providing drug therapies and services to reduce deaths from heart attacks, stroke and diabetes,” PAHO said. “Prevention and management of mental disorders also requires urgent action.”

The group of countries of the Americas, including the Caribbean, reiterated their commitment to the prevention and control of these diseases that account for three quarters of all deaths in the region.

“The delegates invited all Member States to be represented at the United Nations meeting, at the highest political level, to renew and reinforce the work involved in implementing the measures required to reduce the burden of these diseases,” PAHO said, adding that all countries face challenges in preventing and controlling these diseases and their main risk factors.

To effectively address NCDs and promote mental health, as well as the social, economic and environmental determinants of health, PAHO said “a whole-of-government and a whole of-society approach should frame these actions at the national level.”

“Strong political will, national and international investments, cooperation and action across sectors, as well as responsible engagement and multi-sector partnerships between all stakeholders are necessary to achieve these health objectives,” the statement said.

PAHO said the countries of the Americas called on WHO to strengthen its role in supporting Member States to implement national NCD responses and build adequate capacities at the national level.

They also asked WHO to scale up the coordination of necessary activities with other relevant stakeholders.

During the meeting, delegates considered WHO’s five-year strategic action plan on polio transition designed to strengthen country health systems impacted by the scaling down and eventual closure of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI).

The strategic plan was based on the priorities of the national government transition plans, and developed in close collaboration with WHO regional and country offices, PAHO said.

It said the implementation of the plan will require coordination with all country-level and global partners.

The strategy supports country ownership of essential polio functions, like surveillance, laboratory networks, and some core infrastructure that are needed to “sustain a polio-free world after eradication of polio virus; strengthen immunization systems, including surveillance for vaccine-preventable diseases; and strengthen emergency preparedness, detection and response capacity to ensure full implementation of the International Health Regulations.”

WHO said it is committed to continue providing technical assistance and resource mobilization support to countries engaged in polio transition and noted that Caribbean health ministers and other delegates agreed on a resolution urging the WHO Director-General, Member States and partners to continue support to preparations for the high-level meeting of the UN General Assembly on ending tuberculosis in September this year.

The resolution also commits Member States to accelerate their actions to end TB, building on the commitments of the WHO Global Ministerial Conference on Ending TB, held in Moscow in November 2017, PAHO said.

It said the resolution welcomes WHO’s efforts to develop a multisectoral accountability framework towards ending TB, and requests the Secretariat to develop a new global strategy for TB research and innovation, and supports next steps in its development and use.

PAHO said current efforts to implement the World Health Assembly-approved End TB Strategy and to meet the SDG target of ending TB are currently falling short.

TB claimed 1.7 million lives in 2016 worldwide, including 0.4 million among people with HIV, PAHO said, adding that TB remains the leading infectious disease killer in the world and is one of the top 10 global causes of death.

Delegates endorsed a resolution urging cholera-affected countries to implement a roadmap that aims to reduce deaths from the disease by 90 per cent by 2030, PAHO said.

It said the resolution also urges WHO to increase its capacity to support countries fighting the disease; strengthen surveillance and reporting of cholera; and reinforce its leadership and coordination of global prevention and control efforts.

Cholera kills an estimated 95 000 people and affects 2.9 million more every year, disproportionally impacting communities already burdened by conflict, lack of infrastructure, poor health systems and malnutrition and over 2 billion people worldwide still lack access to safe water and are at potential risk of the disease.

PAHO said an information session on health, the environment and climate change was conducted, and a coalition was launched to address the challenges of air pollution and served to give several countries the opportunity to share their perspectives on the challenges they face in environmental health and climate change.

In this context, PAHO Director, Dr Carissa Etienne, reminded delegates that she is from Dominica and that the issues of health and environment are close to her heart.

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