By Nadege Ngeh
The Third United Nations High-Level Meeting (UN – HLM3) on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) was an opportunity for governments to review their commitments on NCDs in the Sustainable Development Goals era. A total of 76 countries made statements during the plenary segment held on September 27, 2018, at the UN Head Quarters in New York.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of WHO asked everyone to “Stand up if you have lost a loved one to cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and respiratory disease.” Every single person at the HLM3 was on their feet.
NCDs are now the leading cause of mortality worldwide – they are responsible for 70% of annual global deaths!
Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, in his statement, pitched strong follow-up commitments on NCDs as the first Head of State to speak in the plenary. He highlighted the need for a global catalytic fund to combat NCDs.
“Demands from countries for technical support for advancing prevention and treatment will not happen without sufficient resources,” he emphasized.
The Cameroon Government was represented at the HLM3 by the Minister of Public Health, Andre Mama Fouda, who indicated in his speech that “more than 95% of Non-Communicable Diseases care in Cameroon is subsidized.”
Many calls were made by world leaders at the High-Level Meeting and these included notably repeated calls to implement the “WHO Best Buys” by taking action on commercial determinants of health – such as including increases in the taxation of tobacco products and sugary drinks.
“Best Buys are no-brainers. They’re like a toolbox, but the thing about tools is that they only work if you get them out of the box and use them,” stressed Dr. Tedros.
It is important to note that, according to the new WHO country profile for Cameroon released on September 23, 2018, deaths from NCDs are on the rise in the country, accounting for 35% of annual deaths in 2016 as compared to 31% in 2014.
On hand to amplify the voices of those living with NCDs was Zoleka Mandela, a South African writer, activist, and Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter. She shared her heartbreaking story of living with an NCD. Zoleka Mandela is a Breast Cancer Survivor and road safety activist and an Elder. In an emotional tone, she reiterated that
“We have had enough of inaction, neglect, and failure! Enough of the lack of health services and coverage, enough of inadequate screening and treatment, enough of toxic air and unsafe environments. Our voices are demanding change! Let them be heard”
Mike Bloomberg, WHO Global Ambassador for Non-Communicable Diseases, lambasted the slating of the next High-Level Meeting on NCDs for 2025. “What were they thinking? Who set the date for the next meeting in 7 years’ time! Absurd, when so many people’s lives are being lost on a daily basis,” Mike Bloomberg expressed his worries. While asking these hard questions in the Multi-Stakeholder Panel, Mike highlighted that holding the next HLM on NCDs in 2025 is way too far in the future.
“We should not look at 2025 as a justification to slow down efforts, but to accelerate and scale up action! Non Communicable Diseases are largely preventable, and we know what works,” said Mike Bloomberg, who will serve a second term as the WHO Global Ambassador for Non-Communicable Diseases.
The High-Level Meeting on NCDs was not without limitations. Many Ministers and Heads of State who were present were not able to address the plenary due to time limitations.
The High-Level Meeting was meant to provide a strategic opportunity to propel the response to where we want to be in overcoming NCDs and how to get there. But it fell short of hard commitments. “The meeting was a lost opportunity,” reads a statement from Civil Society Organisations that were in attendance. At the current rate of progress, countries will not reach global NCD commitments by 2030.
It is evident that some governments chose to ignore or undermine political declaration and negotiation during the United Nations’ Third High-Level Meeting (HLM 3). Fiscal policies and tax were most contentious issues during the High-Level Meeting and ended with weak commitments.
Civil Society Organisations like NCD Alliance continues to call for more steadfast actions to overcome NCDs, saying that the High-Level Meeting has come and gone, but the world has not changed. It is up to us to change the state of things, the NCD Alliance believes.