UN Action Plan on Non Communicable Diseases Does Little for Children and Adolescents

During Spring and Summer of 2012, World Health Organzation (WHO) staff and interested member states have been  at work preparing a series of documents as follow up to the September 2011 High Level Meeting on Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs). They have pored through hundreds of comments, position papers, speeches and technical information to create two documents for approval later this year.  In late July, WHO released two discussion papers, and requested comments on them.  The first is a draft Action Plan on NCDs, and the second is a draft global monitoring framework, including indicators. These two documents together represent much of the global health community's vision for NCD work in the coming decades.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that virtually every document about NCDs produced by the United Nations, including the Political Declaration from the session itself, cites the need for a "lifecourse" approach to the illnesses, including for prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care, these two documents themselves give very short shrift to NCD issues in children and adolescents, two groups in whom the future of this field undeniably lies.  There are significant opportunities in seeking to understand better the causes and prevention of NCDs in these vulnerable groups, just as there are enormous downside risks in choosing not to deal with issues that will become unavoidable in the future. The fact is that millions of children and adolescents live with NCDs (or their close relatives do) every day, including asthma, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, mental illness, and others. And behaviors that affect NCDs in later life, such as use of tobacco and alcohol, lack of physical activity, and poor dietary choices, begin and accelerate in these age groups.

In March 2012, a consortium of international organizations known as NCD Child held a forum to discuss the range of these issues. More than 80 individuals, representing advocates, practitioners, educators, government officials and the private sector adopted a platform called the "Oakland Statement" on this topic. As a disclosure, the Public Health Institute is a member of the steering committee for NCD Child.

In response to the first of the two WHO discussion drafts, NCD Child has released a statement on how the draft Action Plan should be improved by incorporating the needs of children and adolescents. In short, there is a significant need to collect more data about NCDs in these populations, assess best practices, focus on prevention, understand all of the ways that NCDs affect children and adolescents beyond health, appreciate fully the social determinants of health in young people, and create multisectoral approaches that involve a whole-of-government and whole-of-United-Nations approach. Without at least some of these ideas being incorporated into the WHO Action Plan on NCDs, it is difficult to see how the world community intends to make a dent in the problem beyond a bandaid solution.

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