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Non-Communicable Diseases Must Be Embedded in Greater Health, Development Agenda, Secretary-General Tells High-Level General Assembly Meeting

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks, as prepared for delivery by Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed, at the third high-level meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases, in New York today:

Non-communicable diseases are responsible for some 70 per cent of deaths globally.  While this is not the first time non-communicable diseases have been discussed in these halls, this year’s high-level meeting takes place at a particularly critical juncture.

With an increasingly globalized world, longer life expectancy, a rapidly changing climate and increasing levels of urbanization, we are witnessing shifts – demographic and otherwise — that see the burden of non-communicable diseases rising in all nations.

Non-communicable diseases — including mental health disorders — have profound effects on societies, with ramifications that extend far beyond health.  Every year, they are responsible for millions of premature deaths, killing too many people in the prime of their lives.  The vast majority — 85 per cent — of these early deaths occur in developing countries.

These diseases rob people of the ability to earn a living and fuel a cycle of poverty that continues to impoverish families and communities.  The costs of non-communicable diseases are enormous — not only to the people affected, but also to national budgets, health systems and the global economy.

Earlier this month, I announced my vision for climate change, ahead of my 2019 Climate Summit.  We cannot begin to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) without addressing climate change.  Nowhere is this more relevant than right here, in these discussions on non-communicable diseases.

As our air becomes more and more polluted, the risk of noncommunicable diseases rises.  The World Health Organization warns us that air pollution causes a quarter of adult deaths from both heart disease and stroke, while it is responsible for some 30 per cent of deaths due to lung cancer.  The result is an alarming loss of 7 million lives prematurely each year to polluted air.

We must urgently grapple with the effects of carbon emissions and climate change on health.  We must also increase our focus on mental health, which has been a neglected element of this agenda for far too long.

One in four of us will experience a mental health episode at some point in our life.  This year alone, 800,000 people will die from suicide.  This is a global phenomenon, with the vast majority again occurring in developing countries.

One in five of adolescents experience a mental health disorder in any given year.  Many will remain untreated until well into adulthood — if at all.  Women, the poor and those in fragile settings are the most affected.

Alcohol and drug use also deserve greater attention.  More than 3 million people die every year from the harmful use of alcohol, and almost half a million because of drug abuse.  These deaths are tragic, and they are avoidable.

Other SDG goals and targets address ending all forms of malnutrition.  The world is now facing a double burden of under- and over-nutrition.  These often coexist in the same country.  Some 810 million people are undernourished.

At the same time, overweight and obesity are skyrocketing, including in children.  With just more than 12 years left to achieve our targets and deliver on the promises of the SDGs, we must raise our ambition.

Success will require bold political commitment, increased investment, innovation, and policies and plans that ensure swift and effective implementation.  Partnership will also be critical, finding common ground and shared values across stakeholders to overcome barriers that have, for too long, stood in the way of our progress.

In many countries, we have seen the public and private sectors uniting to promote healthy behaviours, increase access to services and unlock additional domestic resources while preventing non-communicable diseases and strengthening broader systems.

We must build on these models of cooperation.  Non-communicable diseases do not exist in a silo.  They require a new way of thinking that promotes prevention, holistic primary health care and stronger systems capable of delivering universal health coverage.

The many unique perspectives and practices that you bring to this room can and should be leveraged to drive us further on our road to universal health coverage.  This must be part of a larger ecosystem that supports the full scope of physical and mental health and well-being.  It will require creative thinking and collaboration.  We need to work beyond the health sector to ensure clean air and more thoughtfully planned cities.

And we need to reimagine healthier, more sustainable food systems that strike a balance between growing hunger and increasing levels of obesity.  Non‑communicable diseases are widespread.  They have many dimensions, numerous causes, and countless undesirable consequences.  But, there are proven ways to prevent and manage them.

I call on you, as leaders, to fulfil the commitments you have already made and to pledge now to integrate action on non-communicable diseases, mental health and nutrition into your broader efforts to achieve the SDGs.

I urge you to seize the moment and ensure that non-communicable diseases are embedded in the greater health and development agenda, including strengthening health systems and moving towards universal health coverage.

Our future, and our children’s future, depends on your action.  I wish you a productive meeting.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.