Noncommunicable Diseases: More Than a Health Crisis

Linda Brookes, MSc; Eduardo L. Cazap, MD, PhD


September 02, 2011

In This Article

On September 19-20, 2011, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly will hold a High Level Summit on Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs) in New York to address the global threat posed by NCDs.[1] The Summit is only the second UN meeting of its kind to focus on a global disease issue, the first being the special session on HIV/AIDS in 2001. This Summit will focus on the 4 most prominent NCDs: cancers, cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes. The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that by 2030, NCDs will be the most common causes of death worldwide.

Cancer, long considered a health threat in high-income countries, is now recognized as being an increasingly important cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. In 2008, 7.6 million or 21% of NCD deaths were caused by cancer, and this number is projected to increase by 4 million over the next 20 years.[2] By 2030, two thirds of all cancer diagnoses will occur in low- and middle-income countries.

An Epidemic With Global Economic Impact

The impending global epidemic of cancer will have far-reaching impact. "If action is not taken very soon," said Eduardo L. Cazap, MD, PhD, president of the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), "a financial crisis like that of Lehman Brothers will be peanuts in comparison with a collapse of healthcare systems."

The issue is not a question of health as much as activism. "Many people think that these political activities are not relevant," Dr. Cazap commented. "The majority of my colleagues in oncology are interested in new treatments and in new medications, and I agree -- I am also a physician -- but the therapeutic part of the cancer problem is a small one. We need to understand the concept of cancer control, including education -- not just medical and public education, but education of government leaders, and it must be global cancer control because it is impossible for even a rich country to undertake all of these efforts alone.

Eduardo L. Cazap, MD, PhD

"It is critical to have a top level leader of each country attend the Summit," Dr. Cazap stressed. "The American Cancer Society has been lobbying hard for President Obama to attend but to date there is no confirmation that he will attend," Dr. Cazap reported. "So we are asking the cancer community, through their organizations and though influential people in their governments, to send a clear message that it is extremely important to have a key leader of the country attending the Summit meeting. This is, I believe, our key objective from now to September 19."

Dr. Cazap and his task force have put forward 5 names for consideration, including Michelle Obama; Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City; and Tabaré Vázquez, former president of Uruguay. "We suggested names of people who are visible to the general public to send a clear message that the role of the civil society is important," Dr. Cazap said.


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