Statement by the Foreign Minister of Estonia, Mr. Urmas Paet, at the UNGA High-Level Meeting on Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases
I thank the Secretary-General for convening this first high-level meeting on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases. I express my appreciation also to ambassadors of Luxembourg and Jamaica who have worked effortlessly on this for almost a year. At the outset I would like to associate myself with the statement of the European Union and would hereby like to offer the following comments on behalf of Estonia.
Mr. President, Ministers, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is timely that this highly important and growing issue of non-communicable diseases is discussed at high level at the United Nations headquarters. At the same time, I would like to reaffirm the leading role of the World Health Organization as the primary specialized agency for health in coordination and promotion of global action against non-communicable diseases. Estonia welcomes the adoption of the political declaration earlier this morning, in which the governments commit to strengthening their national health policies as well as reducing risk factors associated with tobacco use, unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity, and harmful use of alcohol. These are commitments that developing and developed countries can share alike.
In many countries, the non-communicable diseases pose a huge – but avoidable – burden on human capital and economy. The global population will reach 7 billion people in October, but the demographic situation in the world is changing in two opposite directions. In my continent, Europe, societies are ageing, but the years lived in good health can be further extended. Evidence shows that this is effectively achievable through systematically applied preventive activities. Non-communicable diseases cause significant disability and early loss of work capacity as well as premature deaths.
On the other hand, the number of young people in the world has never been higher and most of them live in the developing world. It is important that we promote sexual and reproductive health and rights, since the key to informed decisions is their access to a comprehensive health service package together with sexuality education.
Non-communicable diseases have particularly strong socio-economic impacts on developing countries and are also greatly affecting the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, which, as we know, are falling short of the targets in many countries. Estonia has increasingly supported the development of health systems in developing countries, such as Afghanistan. We continue to support the efforts of different UN organisations such as UNICEF and UNFPA in their actions of improving access to health care, particularly girls and women, throughout the developing world.
We know that the work to address NCDs must be comprehensive and consistent and it takes time to see first results. Systematic approach encompassing health promotion, disease prevention, health care as well as actions directed towards influencing activities of other sectors are needed. This approach is well captured in the WHO European region charter titled “Health systems for health and wealth”, also known as the Tallinn Charter. Tackling NCDs means comprehensive investments in health systems – in health promotion, disease prevention as well as health care. All sectors must be aware of the impact their actions may have on health, and have health enhancement in mind.
In line with the Tallinn Charter, Estonia has a comprehensive five point multi-sectoral approach to tackle NCDs, which covers social determinants of health, child and youth health, key risk factors, healthy environment as well as health care services, which have a crucial role in producing sustainable health gain. The national health plan provides an umbrella framework for specific disease-oriented health strategies.
Decline in premature mortality due to NCDs has been visible during the last 10 years in Estonia but still remains much higher than in most European countries. At the same time it is alarming that the prevalence of overweight and obesity is rising. I am content that we have agreed today to strengthen work on food marketing, reduction of salt and sugar in food, as well as tackling alcohol abuse.
In conclusion, the global response to reduce premature morbidity and mortality from non-communicable diseases should be effective, comprehensive and integrated into global health agenda as well as to national health systems.