Director-General's Office

Opening meeting of the High-Level Commission on Noncommunicable Diseases

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Director-General of the World Health Organization

Executive Board Room, WHO Headquarters, Geneva
7 May 2018

Excellencies, distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

A warm welcome to WHO, and thank you for your commitment to this very important commission.

Let me begin with a story.

Earlier this year I was in Thailand, where I met a man with kidney failure. He could never have afforded the costs of dialysis.

But he is lucky enough to live in a country that has made incredible progress towards universal health coverage.

I asked his daughter who would have paid for his treatment if the government had not.

She said, "No one. I would have waited for my father to die."

But because he was able to receive dialysis, he's now back at work.

That experience drove home several points for me.

First, noncommunicable diseases are a global threat. No matter where you go, countries are grappling with the increasing burden - and the increasing costs - of NCDs.

Today NCDs account for 70% of all deaths globally. Every year, NCDs kill 15 million people between the ages of 30 and 69. More than 80% of these premature deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.

The second point is that NCDs pose an economic threat that most countries underestimate, at their peril.

This threat takes at least two forms: the cost to the health system of treating long-term conditions; and the opportunity cost of lost productivity.

One study estimates that NCDs will cost China 27.8 trillion U.S. dollars between 2012 and 2030.

The reality is that no country, however rich, can afford to simply treat the sick. We must protect the healthy, by addressing the root causes of NCDs.

The only option is to focus our attention and our investments on health promotion and disease prevention.

The third point is that universal health coverage is the best defense against the onrushing tide of NCDs.

Strong health systems, based on people-centred primary care, with a focus on health promotion and disease prevention, are the best investment we can make in the fight against NCDs.

Community engagement is especially important.

When communities become informed about the risk factors that cause NCDs, they become the best possible advocates.

The good news is that we currently enjoy unprecedented political commitment on NCDs.

The SDGs give us the mandate for action on NCDs. At last year's Global Conference on NCDs in Uruguay, governments committed to reinvigorating political action, and to strengthen health systems by making more resources available to address NCDs. Many countries translating political commitment into concrete action.

Just recently Scotland introduced a minimum price on alcohol. Later this year the U.S. plans to eliminate trans-fats from its food supply. Taxes on sugary drinks in Mexico; plain packaging in Australia - there are more and more examples.

But progress is too slow. On current trends, we will not meet SDG target 3.4.

That's why I established this commission.

We need to jumpstart action against NCDs.

We have plenty of proven interventions, and plenty of guidance on how to combat NCDs.

But we need bold and disruptive ideas that will accelerate action and dramatically alter the trajectory of the global NCD epidemic.

I'm looking for a set of concrete recommendations that I can discuss with Heads of State and Heads of Government.

You have a unique opportunity to improve the lives of billions of people.

Your collective knowledge and experience are incredible assets that could make an incredible difference.

In a group this size, there will be disagreements. But I urge you to seek solidarity and common ground. Focus on what unites you, and let that be your guide.

I hope your recommendations will be used as important input to the high-level meeting in September.

But I hope if we possible that we may be able to launch your report during the World Health Assembly. This would be an ideal platform for garnering support for your recommendations.

WHO stands ready to support you in whatever ways you need to complete this important task.

Thank you once again. I wish you a very successful meeting, and I very much look forward to seeing your final report.