A high-level commission of the World Health Organisation has proposed six recommendations to speed up action and tackle the growing epidemic of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including having heads of state take charge for NCD agenda rather than delegate to health ministers alone.

It warns that the Sustainable Development Goal for NCDs – to reduce premature deaths from NCDs by a third by 2030 and promote mental health – will not be met at the current rate of progress.

The commission’s report submitted to WHO director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus in Geneva on Friday calls for high-level political commitment and immediate scaling up of action to address the epidemic of chronic disease.

President of Uruguay, Dr Tabaré Vázquez,  called on world leaders to “redouble efforts” to meet the Sustainable Development Goals on NCDs.

“Preserving and improving people’s quality of life is a way of enhancing human dignity in order to make progress in terms of economic growth, social justice and human coexistence,” said Vázquez, who presented the report to Ghebreyesus.

Non-communicable diseases are the leading cause of death and ill health around the world.

Collectively, cancer, diabetes, lung and heart diseases kill 41 million people annually, accounting for 71% of all deaths globally, 15 million of which occur between the ages of 30 and 70 years.

“We know the problem and we have the solutions, but unless we increase financing for NCDs, and demand all stakeholders be held responsible for delivering on their promises, we won’t be able to accelerate progress,” said the commission co-chair Dr Sania Nishtar.

“The NCDs epidemic has exploded in low- and middle-income countries over the last two decades. We need to move quickly to save lives, prevent needless suffering, and keep fragile health systems from collapsing.”

The commission recommends that:

  • Heads of State and Government take responsibility for the NCD agenda, rather than delegating it to ministers of health alone, as it requires collaboration and cooperation across many sectors.
  • Governments should identify and implement a specific set of priorities within the overall NCD and mental health agenda, based on public health needs.
  • Governments should reorient health systems to include NCDs prevention and control and mental health services in their universal health coverage policies and plans.
  • Governments should increase effective regulation, appropriate engagement with the private sector, academia, civil society, and communities.
  • Governments and the international community should develop a new economic paradigm for funding actions on NCDs and mental health.
  • Governments need to strengthen accountability to their citizens for action on NCDs and simplify existing international accountability mechanisms.