Director-General's Office

Presidential segment of WHO Global Conference on Noncommunicable Diseases

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus remarks at the Presidential segment of WHO Global Conference on Noncommunicable Diseases.

Montevideo, Uruguay
18 October 2017

Excellencies, presidents, ministers, ladies and gentlemen,

As you have all seen today, the fight against cancer, heart and lung diseases, diabetes and other NCDs is a critical one.

That’s why last week I announced that WHO will establish a High-Level Commission on NCDs, to be co-chaired by Dr Sania Nishtar of Pakistan.

And today I would like to announce that the President of Uruguay, my good friend Dr Vázquez, who is a true champion in NCDs prevention and control, has accepted my invitation to also co-chair this Commission.

By doing so, the President is providing an example of the high-level political leadership that is so desperately needed to reverse the NCDs epidemic. Thank you Dr Vázquez,

The Commission has an important part to play in ensuring the world meets targets set within the global sustainable development agenda, and in creating a safer, fairer and more prosperous future. It will be a guiding force in our preparations for next year’s UN General Assembly High-level Meeting on NCDs.

Because if we don’t overcome the scourge of the NCD epidemic, we will never be able to ensure that today’s children have a safe, fair, and prosperous future.

How can we claim the world is secure when NCDs kill 15 million people every year in the prime of their lives?

How can we claim the world is fair when the healthiest food is out of reach of the poorest people, when companies put profit before health, and the cheapest food is the most hazardous?

How can we hope for a prosperous future when the lost productivity and treatment costs of NCDs impoverish families and hold nations back?

Friends, the NCD epidemic is playing out like a horror story before our very eyes. Hundreds of millions of children are obese and overweight.

Most of those children would not be obese if they could eat a healthy diet and be physically active.

Unless we act now, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular and lung diseases lie ahead.

And it is shocking to see the growing toll that NCDs are taking on the people who can least afford healthcare.

And in more and more countries of the world, the double burden of malnutrition – where overweight and underweight children live in the very same communities – is providing a stark example of the challenges we all here need to address, that being the provision of and access to healthy, nutritious food.

But this can only happen if there is committed and enlightened leadership from the highest levels of government.

Governments must act on pledges to prevent NCDs in the first place, and to ensure that people can obtain services to treat them.

Failure to do this imposes massive costs on individuals and communities, and is in total opposition to global commitments to sustainable development.

Governments like Uruguay’s are examples to the world, where the leadership from the very highest level strives to defend and advance the sovereign right of protecting the health of their people.

These are not empty words – not in the least. Uruguay places prevention and control of NCDs very seriously.

You just have to look at what it has done to implement strict tobacco controls to protect people in the first place from cancers, heart and lung diseases.

It is also among a group of countries to have ratified the protocol to control the illicit trade of tobacco, part of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Just nine more countries need to ratify this protocol for it to come into effect, and I urge countries in this room to join with Uruguay and others to make this happen.

By doing so, they will provide the world with another powerful legal tool to protect people from the evils of tobacco.

At the same time, Uruguay has taken seriously the need to ensure its people have access to health care, very much in the spirit of universal health care – which is a core objective of mine to advance globally.

I am honoured to be joined by President Mugabe, of Zimbabwe, a country that places universal health coverage and health promotion at the centre of its policies to provide health care to all.

Today I am also honoured to announce that President Mugabe has agreed to serve as a goodwill ambassador on NCDs for Africa to influence his peers in his region to prioritize NCDs.

Paraguay is taking real action on cardiovascular diseases by reducing the amount of sodium bakers put into the bread they make and sell. And in Chile, world-leading front of package labelling that clearly identifies the levels of salt, sugar, fats and calories in foods, is helping people make well informed, healthy choices on what they buy and serve for themselves and their families.

In Morocco, I am glad our Royal Highness joins us, and the outstanding cancer programmes they are leading are very, very important.

This is responsible, health-minded governance at work.

I am tremendously encouraged by the demonstration of leadership I have seen here today.

With appropriate investment both from domestic resources and greater foreign aid, we can reverse the tide.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Many people hope for an opportunity to make a difference. You hold that opportunity in your hands.

I call on us all to commit to three solemn goals:

  • Let us commit to protecting all people from the products that threaten their health – this means implementing best buy interventions that control tobacco, cut back on unhealthy foods, promote physical activity and reduce access to alcohol, including taxation on alcohol, sugary drinks and tobacco.
  • Let us regard the promotion of health, and the control of NCDs, as a responsibility for us all – not just health ministers and nurses – but all sectors of government and society.
  • And let’s lead this revolution for universal health and reducing premature death from NCDs from the highest levels of government. Political commitment is the rule of the game to mobilize all sectors.

It is within your power to improve the quality of the food people eat, the air they breathe, and the spaces where people can play and be active.

This Conference is a critical opportunity to jump-start our efforts to beat back the burden of noncommunicable diseases, and in doing so give countries a better chance for sustainable, prosperous futures.

We must be prepared to have some tough conversations, and to take brave action. And we must be prepared to do this now.

Thank you very much. Muchas gracias.


NOTE: The Director-General rescinded the appointment of H.E. Robert Mugabe as Goodwill Ambassador for NCDs in Africa on 22 October 2017.