World leaders from across government sectors gather in Uruguay to confront NCDs

Government officials, public health workers, global experts and advocates convened in Montevideo, Uruguay, this week for the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Conference on Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs), from 18-20 October.

The conference was co-hosted by Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the WHO, and Dr Tabaré Vázquez, President of Uruguay, who has demonstrated long-standing commitment to reducing the burden of NCDs. The Union’s Executive Director, José Luis Castro, attended the conference on personal invitation from President Vázquez.

José Luis Castro and The Union’s Legal Advisor on Tobacco Control, Gustavo Sóñora, met privately with Vázquez prior to the conference’s start to discuss their dedication to reducing NCDs globally and Uruguay’s proven record prioritising the health of its people.

NCDs are responsible for 40 million deaths annually – this represents nearly 70 percent of all deaths worldwide, the bulk of which are classified as “premature”, or affecting people between 30 and 70 years old. The majority of the NCD burden is caused by four diseases: cancer, cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes, all of which manifest visibly as health issues but originate outside the health sector. 

The Montevideo Roadmap, the outcome document endorsed by governments at the three-day conference, draws attention to NCDs as more than just a public health problem. Any significant reduction in NCD deaths will require multi-sectoral action to address the risk factors and determinants for NCDs, such as tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and harmful use of alcohol.

Speaking at the conference in a plenary session on mobilising stakeholders, José Luis Castro said “We need to become better at framing NCDs not only as a challenge but also as an opportunity for sustainable development. We have only just begun to tap into the potential that lies in working with non-health sectors and encouraging our national and regional alliances to do the same.”

Dr Ghebreyesus remarked, during the Presidential segment of the conference, “It is within your power to improve the quality of the food people eat, the air they breathe, and the spaces where people can play and be active.

“This Conference is a critical opportunity to jump-start our efforts to beat back the burden of non-communicable diseases, and in doing so give countries a better chance for sustainable, prosperous futures.

“We must be prepared to have some tough conversations, and to take brave action. And we must be prepared to do this now.”