LONDON A global health group on Thursday accused the United States, Canada and Europe of harming efforts to fight cancer, diabetes, heart and other diseases because they will not agree to set United Nations targets.
The main sticking point is money, said Ann Keeling, chair of the NCD Alliance, which groups some 2,000 health organizations from around the world focused on non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
Rich nations fear they will have to foot much of the bill for tackling a chronic disease epidemic in poorer nations, and are reluctant to commit to this when their economies are in turmoil, Keeling said.
But such fears were short-sighted, she added.
"The reason we called for a U.N. summit in the first place was to move toward a global action plan," she said. "The world is essentially sleepwalking into a sick future. It's time to get back to the table and get serious about this."
The alliance singled out the United States, Canada and the European Union. It said they were stalling talks by blocking proposals for a U.N. summit scheduled for September to set a goal to cut preventable deaths from NCDs by 25 percent by 2025.
"The situation is urgent. Yet sound proposals for the draft declaration to include time-bound commitments and targets are being systematically deleted, diluted and downgraded," it said in a statement.
Non-communicable diseases, often known as chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, asthma and other lung 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.
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.
NCDs also account for half of all global disability, including blindness and amputations, and impose huge costs on families, healthcare systems, businesses and national economies.
The U.N. meeting, slated for September 19 and 20 in New York, is only the second ever such high-level meeting to be convened on a threat to global health.
The first, a decade ago, was dedicated to HIV and AIDS and was seen as a turning point in efforts to get care, treatment and prevention programs to some of the hardest hit countries.
Keeling, who is also chief executive of the International Diabetes Federation, said in a telephone interview that negotiations before the UN meeting, which the alliance had hoped would be a similar turning point for chronic diseases, had broken down due to disagreements over whether targets should be set and measured.
The World Health Organization says many deaths from NCDs could be prevented by curbing excessive alcohol intake, improving diets, discouraging smoking and promoting more physical activity.
Better screening programs and awareness could also help reduce the number of deaths from breast and cervical cancers, high blood pressure and diabetes.
(Editing by Angus MacSwan)