Director-General's Office

Third High-Level Meeting on Noncommunicable Diseases

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

United Nations General Assembly, New York, USA
27 September 2018

Your Excellency Tabaré Vazquez of Uruguay,

Excellencies Heads of State, Heads of Government,

Excellencies Ministers,

Madam Deputy Secretary-General,

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

The diseases and conditions we are here to discuss are not just labels.

They’re a living reality for millions of people as we speak. They’re a cause of needless suffering, expense and death – for people in this room. For people in our families. For the people you represent.

Three years ago, many of you gathered here at the UN to commit to an ambitious ideal: the Sustainable Development Goals.

Among the 169 targets, you committed to reducing premature mortality from noncommunicable diseases by one-third by 2030.

I am here to tell you that we are dangerously off-course.

At the current pace, less than half of the world’s countries will meet that target.

We can change course, and we can do it today. We can do it now.

NCDs kill 41 million people prematurely every single year, many of them in the prime of life.

But we could prevent nearly 10 million of those deaths by 2025.

Here’s how.

WHO has developed a tool we call the best buys – a set of 16 practical interventions that are cost-effective and feasible for all countries, including low- and middle-income countries.

Increasing tobacco taxes.

Restricting alcohol advertising.

Reformulating food products with less salt, sugar and fat.

Vaccinating girls against cervical cancer.

Treating hypertension and diabetes.

And more.

The best buys were endorsed by all of your countries at the World Health Assembly last year.

If implemented globally, they will save 10 million lives by 2025, and prevent 17 million strokes and heart attacks by 2030.

But the benefits go beyond health. The best buys can also be a powerful economic tool.

We estimate that implementing all 16 best buys globally will generate US $350 billion in economic growth in the poorest countries between now and 2030.

Every dollar invested in the best buys will yield a return of at least seven dollars.

Allow me to be blunt: the best buys are no-brainers.

They’re like a toolbox. But the thing about tools is that they only work if you get them out of the box and use them.

It takes a decision. It takes intent. It takes political will.

Your presence here today is a powerful demonstration of that political will.

I salute the many Heads of State and Government who will speak today.

Each of you is responsible for taking action in your own country.

But you’re not alone. We’re on this journey together.

Together we can celebrate our successes. Together we can learn from experience. Together we can stand up against powerful industries that profit from harming health.

That’s why today I am proposing to create a coalition of champions that will catalyse a global movement at the highest political levels to make bold choices for noncommunicable diseases.

The coalition will ask all political leaders globally to commit to 3 to 5 years of intensive efforts to rapidly implement WHO’s best buys and drive progress towards SDG target 3.4.

I’m also pleased to announce that we have just reappointed my friend Michael Bloomberg as WHO’s Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases for the next two years.

Mike’s experience as Mayor of this great city, and his global profile as a businessman, politician and philanthropist, are wonderful assets in the fight against NCDs.

Ladies and gentlemen, excellencies,

Let me leave you with three actions we can all take to win the fight against NCDs.

First, political commitment.

I know from my own experience that with political commitment, anything is possible. Without it, progress is slow.

Very often, political intervention is surgical intervention. It brings a paradigm shift. That’s why political commitment is important.

Second, domestic investment.

WHO’s best buys are cost effective and affordable for all countries. Spending to build a healthier population is not a cost – it’s an investment in human capital that pays a rich reward.

And third, universal health coverage.

The best way to prevent and treat noncommunicable diseases alongside all health threats is to ensure all people can access the health services they need, without worrying about whether they can afford them.

Next year, we will gather once again here in New York for the High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage. I hope to see as many heads of state and heads of government here as possible.

The Global Conference on Primary Health Care in Astana, Kazakhstan next month will be another vital moment for recommitting to primary health care as the backbone of universal health coverage.

Political commitment.

Domestic investment.

Universal health coverage.

But today I’m asking you to do one more small thing. A small gesture.

Please stand up if someone you love has lost their life to one of the following diseases and conditions.

Heart disease.




Chronic lung disease.

Depression, suicide and other mental health disorders.

I don’t see anyone sitting. No one.

Now imagine this room multiplied by 82 000. That’s 41 million people a year dying prematurely from noncommunicable diseases.

That’s the scale of the challenge we face.

We stand in honour of their memory.

We stand in solidarity with those who need not die if we act now.

We stand committed to a healthier, safer, fairer world.

Thank you so much for your commitment.