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Targeting Non-Communicable Diseases

Non-communicable diseases are one of the leading threats to economic progress and human wellbeing. Addressing the complex challenge that they pose will require a coordinated international effort that draws on the resources and expertise of governments, international non-profits, and, crucially, the private sector.

INDIANAPOLIS – Around the world, one of the major factors destroying lives and hampering economic growth is also one of the hardest to address. Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer – now account for two-thirds of all deaths worldwide. In addition to cutting lives short, NCDs exact a massive economic toll on their victims, their families, and their communities, sapping economic productivity and driving up medical costs. Over the next two decades, the total economic losses from NCDs could top $30 trillion.

Addressing the complex challenge posed by NCDs will require a coordinated international effort. Fortunately, there have been some important recent steps in that direction. In September, the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, a set of 17 objectives that will guide the global development agenda for the next 15 years. Alongside targets like eliminating poverty and measures to protect the environment is a commitment to reducing mortality caused by NCDs – the first time the UN’s official development agenda has taken direct aim at the problem.

This is a welcome milestone, but it is only the first of many on a long road. The physical and economic burdens associated with NCDs fall the hardest where they are least easily borne: low- and middle-income countries, where 80% of NCD-related deaths occur. Millions of people who have recently escaped poverty could be pushed back into it as a result.