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Statement at the UN High-level Meeting on Non-communicable Diseases

New York, 19.9.2011  |  speech

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Statement by Dr Danilo Türk, President of the Republic of Slovenia, at the UN High-level Meeting on Non-communicable Diseases
New York, 19 September 2011

The President of the Republic, Dr. Danilo Türk, attends the High-level meeting on prevention and control of non-communicable diseases where he was a speaker (photo: Stanko Gruden/STA)Mr President,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

We gather today at a unique meeting with a uniquely important purpose: To put in place an effective global front against the spreading of non-communicable diseases and to start removing some of the major threats to human life in our era. We owe gratitude to all those who made this meeting possible, the Secretary-General, the WHO secretariat and the Caribbean States for the timely and wise initiative.

Let us reflect, for a moment, on the magnitude – and the paradox of the task ahead. First, the magnitude. We are reminded that according to WHO in 2008, an estimated 36 million of the total of 57 million global deaths were due to non-communicable diseases – principally cancers, diabetes cardiovascular and chronic respiratory diseases. Nearly 80 per cent of these deaths occurred in the developing countries. I am convinced that these figures will be quoted often these day – and rightly so. The world must become better aware of the major threats to humankind. There is no doubt that non-communicable diseases constitute such a threat.

However, there is a paradox. This is only the second time in the history of the UN the General Assembly convened a meeting with participation of heads of state and government on a set of dramatic global health issues with major and very adverse consequences for social and economic development.

We should think why this is so. Perhaps our global understanding of development remains too limited and excessively driven by economic technicalities? Perhaps health issues are still seen as a matter for experts and not for global policy makers?

But be that as it may, the UN and the international community must take courage from the fact that in the recent past a broad, energetic and well coordinated global campaign made a significant difference, in fact it has been critical in the combat against the spreading of HIV/AIDS. Admittedly, there is still more to do in that respect, but definitive successes are already there and they are felt in most regions of the world.

The President of the Republic, Dr. Danilo Türk, attends the High-level meeting on prevention and control of non-communicable diseases where he was a speaker (photo: Stanko Gruden/STA)Moreover, in many countries around the world, governments and health institutions have already developed effective systems of prevention and cure of non-communicable diseases. Several types of cancer, once feared as invariably terminal, are becoming ever more preventable and curable. The accessibility and quality of medical services has improved and many countries are well equipped for the necessary and fast developing techniques of treatment. There have been successes in prevention, although probably less than needed. An ever growing number of people understand that smoking is death and that healthy nutrition and healthy lifestyle in general goes a long way to prevention of disease and to better life expectancy.

In the framework of the European Union Slovenia has been among the initiators of the European Partnership for Action against Cancer, a campaign for the most effective prevention and successful treatment of cancer diseases. International cooperation is a vital condition for success.

But there is a fundamental problem which the UN must put at the center of its deliberations. Prevention and cure require resources – medical, technical, financial and organizational. All of them are sadly deficient in much of the developing world. The UN system must provide, as soon as possible, the necessary options of multi-sectoral strategies, a system of the most appropriate indicator to measure progress and an institutional mechanism which will enable an effective coordination at the global level. The Political Declaration to be adopted at the present high-level meeting goes a long way in that direction. We wish to commend co-facilitators, Jamaica and Luxembourg for the work well done.

However, there is still a long way to go. The WHO leadership – with full participation of member states – will be necessary in the process of implementation of the declaration and in the effort to develop an integrated approach involving the necessary variety of the implementation activities. The role of the Secretary-General will be crucial in the preparation of an effective strategy of multisectoral action for prevention and control of NCDs through effective partnership of member states, international agencies, expert institutions, civil society organizations and business sector.

Mr President,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Implementation of broad international agreements is always the most difficult aspect of international action. The UN should take advantage of partnerships of governments, professional organizations and civil society groups and business sector. In the fight against cancer such an alliance is already emerging and the basic concepts of the necessary global strategies are taking shape. They include a clear identification of objectives and the major instruments for their achievement in the areas of leadership, prevention, public awareness and education, early detection and treatment and – last but not least – research.

Some of the tools are therefore already in place. Others will have to be added. There is no doubt that international cooperation in the fight against NCDs can succeed. Let us make the current high-level meeting a symbol of success.

Thank you, Mr President.
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