Non-communicable diseases represent a major threat to the economy and health of populations in all countries. Death and disability from NCDs have reached epidemic proportions. They push poor people further into poverty. They impede achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. The World Economic Forum ranks NCDs as one of the top global threats to economic development, which is impeded by imposing an unmanageable burden on health systems.
New Zealand is confronting the magnitude of the problem not only for our own people, but also in our Pacific Island country neighbours. Over 40 per cent of the adult population in some Pacific countries have diabetes. This is projected to double by 2030. NCDs are having a massive impact on their potential for social and economic development.
New Zealand recently hosted the 40th anniversary meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum, where leaders expressed concern about the potentially devastating economic consequences of NCDs and their impact on MDG achievement when the region is already struggling to meet the 2015 targets. Rapidly rising expenditure on NCDs now comprises well over 50 percent of the total health budget of many island countries. If unabated, NCDs have the potential to undermine four of the main factors driving economic growth - labour supply, productivity, investment and education. Leaders called for quick and decisive action to address this rapidly unfolding crisis, from governments, private sector, civil society, regional and international organisations, and development partners.
New Zealand therefore welcomes the opportunity to focus attention on this regional and global crisis and to consider what can be done.
New Zealand supports the life-course approach to NCDs. This begins at conception. Prenatal malnutrition and low birth weight create a predisposition to obesity, heart disease and diabetes later in life. Improving care, before and during pregnancy, especially primary health care, can reduce the risks during a child’s early and later life. Actively addressing the common risk factors at any stage of life can also reduce the risk of NCD illness and death.
NCDs are not just a health issue. They require a whole-of-government approach and innovative strategies across such sectors as health, education, agriculture, environment, and economic development. In New Zealand, the combined efforts of academia, civil society and government, have, for example, supported multi-sectoral efforts to reduce harm from tobacco use.
Our aim is for an essentially smoke-free country by 2025. Substantially reducing tobacco consumption will significantly reduce NCDs with considerable health benefits for individuals and countries. We urge countries that have not yet done so to become party to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
Finally Mr President,
New Zealand remains a consistent supporter of Pacific countries in their efforts to address NCDs, and a contributor to international research on NCDs. We know that the knowledge and expertise to prevent deaths and disability from NCDs exists. With this meeting, we now have the political commitment to these solutions.
New Zealand stands ready to maintain the momentum generated by this meeting. Averting the NCD crisis is essential to ensuring that present and future generations have the chance to live long, healthy and productive lives.