Global health group urges co-operation to tackle 'non-communicable' diseases like cancer and heart disease

In collaboration with the Press Association

Efforts to improve the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are being hampered by countries that are refusing to set UN goals, a global health group has claimed.

In a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the NCD Alliance said efforts to combat non-infectious diseases like cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and chronic respiratory disease are being crippled by a lack of cohesion.

NCDs are the leading cause of death worldwide, causing 36 million deaths in 2008. Over 80 per cent of NCDs occur in low- and middle-income countries and are a major cause of suffering, poverty and impeded development.

The Alliance has called for co-operation ahead of the first-ever UN meeting on the issue, which is scheduled to take place in New York on September 19 and 20.

Referring to the Political Declaration, which will be the outcome of the meeting, the Alliance said: "The situation is urgent. Yet, it is reported that sound proposals for the draft Declaration to include time-bound commitments and targets are being systematically deleted, diluted and downgraded."

Ann Keeling, chairwoman of the NCD Alliance, added: "We have a unique and historic opportunity to change the course of the NCD crisis and stop millions of people around the world suffering unnecessary pain and hardship. To do that, we need governments to agree and act on a common goal."

The NCD Alliance wants members states to agree on an overall objective to reduce preventable deaths from NCDs by 25 per cent by 2025.

It also wants to devise a clear time line for tackling major NCDs, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and chronic respiratory disease.

Furthermore, it hopes to achieve its objectives by developing a set of specific, evidence-based goals, while it calls on governments and UN agencies to help encourage and measure progress.

Jean King, Cancer Research UK's director of tobacco control, said: "The United Nations meeting in September is an opportunity to ensure that diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart and lung disease become central to long-term health planning across the world.

"The goal is to ensure that all countries focus on reducing the number of preventable deaths by 25 per cent by 2025. We need firm commitments to this goal otherwise this unique opportunity to help save lives will be lost. We urge all countries to commit to a coordinated global response to reducing deaths from preventable diseases."