UN Sustainable Development Summit - Time to prioritise NCDs

A message from ADI Executive Director Marc Wortmann

25 September 2015 - Today marks the start of the UN Sustainable Development Summit 2015. The decisions made at the summit will determine the global course of action to end poverty, promote prosperity and well-being for all, protect the environment and address climate change. The actions taken in 2015 are expected to result in new sustainable development goals (SDGs). For the first time ever, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like dementia are included in the SDG agenda.

However, there is still a focus on 'premature mortality' (before the age of 70) from NCDs. We believe this fails to recognise the potential impact of disability on quality of life, as well as the impact on individuals and the burden of health and care costs that often comes with a diagnosis of dementia.

We should exercise caution not to diminish the achievement of having NCDs featured so prominently on the UN’s Post-2015 Development Agenda, Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Declaration reiterates the important of establishing access to quality health care, preventing global health threats, and assuring physical and mental wellbeing as central to sustainable development.

The Declaration also contains a specific reference to the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases, including behavioural, developmental and neurological disorders as a major challenge to sustainable development. It states that actions must go beyond the health sector and address NCDs through policies, and programs in all dimensions of sustainable development (economic, social and environmental). This is the vision of the NCD Alliance, of which ADI is a member, who have worked hard to push NCDs higher up the global health agenda.

Crucially, it also states that governments must now incorporate NCDs into national and regional development plans and frameworks, as well as into development assistance for low and middle income countries (LMICs). The World Alzheimer Report 2015 estimates that by 2050, 68% of all people with dementia will live in LMICs, areas which will also see around a 200% proportionate increase between now and the middle of century. On World Alzheimer’s Day, we issued a statement calling for an increase in international development aid for low and middle income countries, and with less than 2% of Official Development Assistance for Health currently allocated to NCDs, this is an urgent priority.

An ongoing concern is the focus within the health SDGs on preventing ‘premature mortality’, that is to say, death before the age of 70. Target 3.4 reads: “By 2030 reduce by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases.” It is estimated more than half of all people who die from NCDs are over the age of 70, so there is a worry this definition would allow governments to deny prevention, cure or care to the large majority of people living with NCDs like heart disease, cancer, diabetes and dementia.

In just 3 years’ time, the global cost of dementia is set to hit US $1 trillion. This focus on 'premature mortality' as a result of NCDs fails to take into account the impact that NCD-related disability can have on people’s quality of life and on their national health systems.

By 2030, NCDs will be the leading cause of global disability. Given the scale of the epidemic and the rapidly ageing global population, we’re calling on the UN to play an active role in helping to create a world where people can enjoy a better quality of life, whatever their age. The UN must take the lead, recognising both premature mortality and disability in assessing the full impact of chronic diseases, including dementia.