The fight against non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and liver disease, is at grave risk, because of recent efforts by some countries to stall and weaken critical United Nations negotiations, the European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL) warned today.
In a letter addressed to Mr Ban Ki-Moon, Dr Margaret Chan and Mr Jose Manuel Barroso, EASL called on them to personally push for progress at the first ever UN High-Level Meeting on the Prevention and Control of Non Communicable Diseases, scheduled for 19 September in New York.
"The situation is urgent," said Prof. Mark Thursz, Secretary General of EASL. "Sound proposals for clear goals and timelines to tackle devastating diseases, including liver disease, are being systematically deleted, diluted and downgraded by some member states. Urgent action is needed now to put the negotiations back on track."
NCDs are the leading cause of death worldwide each year, causing 36 million deaths in 2008 and accounting for 63 per cent of all global deaths (1). Over the next 20 years, the NCD epidemic is projected to accelerate exponentially, putting enormous strain on families, health systems and economies.
In Europe alone, 86% of all deaths are caused by chronic non-communicable diseases with up to 80% of health-care expenses being allocated to them. What is worse is the fact that the majority of chronic non-communicable diseases can be prevented.
Liver disease is estimated to affect 6% of the EU's population (approx. 29 million people) and is reported to be the EU's 5th biggest killer, accounting for at least one in six deaths. In 2004, the mortality rate for chronic liver diseases was estimated at 14.3 per 100.000 in the EU-25. This means that more than 70,000 Europeans are dying from chronic liver diseases every year. Even more worrying is the fact that the EU statistics do not cover all disease of the liver in one category, e.g. alcohol abuse related deaths and liver cancer are treated separately. Therefore, the actual rate of deaths from liver diseases is certainly much higher than the statistics suggest.
And yet, says EASL, the NCD epidemic could be effectively addressed through the reduction of risk factors - principally tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and harmful use of alcohol - as well as early detection and timely treatments.
"We have a unique and historic opportunity to change the course of this ticking time bomb and stop millions of people around the world suffering unnecessary pain and hardship", said Prof. Dominique-Charles Valla, EASL's EU Policy Councillor. "To do that, we need governments to agree and act on a common goal."
EASL is calling on the High Level Meeting to agree on:
- An overarching goal to reduce preventable deaths from NCDs by 25% by 2025
- A clear timeline for tackling the epidemic of major NCDs, including liver disease
- A set of specific, evidence-based targets and global indicators
- A high-level collaborative initiative of governments and UN agencies with civil society to stimulate and assess progress.