Draft U.N. disease summit statement seen as weak

LONDON Thu Sep 8, 2011 10:28am EDT

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LONDON (Reuters) - A draft statement from a United Nations summit on chronic diseases is a "great disappointment" and sets no new targets or commitments for tackling cancer, diabetes, heart and lung disease epidemics, a global health group said on Thursday.

NCD Alliance chairwoman Ann Keeling, who has seen the latest draft of the declaration, said it was significantly weaker than she'd hoped for.

"There is very strong language... about recognition of the problem and the need to act. But there are no strong, time-bound commitments in there, so it's a great disappointment from that point of view," said Keeling.

She said there were several crucial omissions, notably the lack of any overarching target to reduce the number of deaths from non-communicable diseases (NCDs), often known as chronic diseases.

NCD Alliance groups some 2,000 health organizations from around the world focused on chronic or non-communicable diseases and has been involved in months of negotiations ahead of the September 19-20 U.N. summit.

NCDs, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and respiratory diseases, are the leading cause of death worldwide each year, causing 36 million deaths in 2008 and accounting for 63 percent of all deaths.

World health experts say that over the next 20 years, this epidemic is projected to accelerate and that by 2030, the number of deaths from NCDs could reach 52 million a year.

The U.N. meeting is the second ever such high-level meeting to be held on a threat to global health and has been billed as a "once in a generation" opportunity to tackle the predicted wave of these diseases.

The World Health Organization, the NCD Alliance and other health groups had been calling for the summit to enshrine a goal to cut preventable deaths from NCDs by 25 percent by 2025.

"If you don't have a global target, you have nothing to aim for, there's no accountability and you can't monitor progress," Keeling said. "That really needs to be put right."

The World Cancer Research Fund on Wednesday urged heads of state due to attend the meeting to "avoid a public health disaster" by taking concrete steps to improve diets, encourage people to get more exercise and cut levels of alcohol and tobacco use.

Keeling told Reuters the draft contains no specific aims improving the nutritional content of foods, and while there is some "language around the importance of tobacco taxes," there are no firm commitments on governments raising taxes or curbing tobacco advertising beyond an agreement to hold another, lower-level meeting next year to look again.

"The whole point of getting heads of state and heads of government to the table like this was to get political buy-in," she said.

"If things get kicked into 2012... it will not have the political buy-in that it would if heads of state signed it off this September."

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