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A Seat at a Critically Important Table

September 14, 2011

This is the inaugural post by John R. Seffrin, Ph.D., chief executive officer, American Cancer Society.

As summer gives way to fall, school is back in session, Congress is back in session, and the United Nations is preparing for what could be a truly historic General Assembly session. Among the many pressing global issues the UN will address next week in New York is that of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), a group that includes cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and chronic respiratory disease. As a group, NCDs cause 63 percent of all deaths globally, but only recently has the world community come together to launch a coordinated effort against them.

The UN High-level Meeting on Noncommunicable Diseases, which convenes on Monday, September 19, will be the most important and most visible step to date in the process of preventing and controlling this group of diseases and reversing the damage they cause to lives and economies worldwide. I am honored to have the opportunity to serve as part of the United States delegation to the High-level Meeting alongside the Hon. Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services.

In conjunction with the High-level Meeting, I’ll also be participating in several other events in New York designed to raise awareness of the burden of NCDs worldwide. I’ll be meeting with several members of our American Cancer Society CEOs Against Cancer® program, essential partners in the NCD fight as we look to build bridges to a future with both greater innovation and collaboration among all sectors. I’m also looking forward to participating in events at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting, directly after the High-level Meeting.

I’m quite excited about the potential for this week to set the global health community on a path toward real change, measured in lives saved and suffering diminished. The stakes are high, with 36 million lives lost in 2008 to NCDs, and a projected death toll in 2020 of 44 million, but so are the hopes for meaningful results. In 2001 the UN held the only other High-level Meeting on a global public health issue, which many have said was critical in launching previously unimaginable progress against HIV/AIDS.

Just as NCDs have many causes and risk factors, there are many possible ways to blunt the coming tsunami of disease that is guaranteed if we do nothing. We are facing a complex challenge, but we also know what works – we have proof of concept. With many proven medical and policy interventions that could be deployed quickly, we could begin making a difference perhaps just as quickly. What has been missing, and what I hope can be marshaled at the UN, is the global political commitment to act against these diseases in a coordinated way.

I consider it a privilege to be part of these meetings, and I will do all that I can to ensure the result is a specific and sustainable course of action that the world health community can use as a guide.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 15, 2011 9:19 am

    Welcome to the blogosphere. Wishing you favorable outcomes at the the UN High-Level Meeting.

  2. September 15, 2011 11:12 am

    my son mark passed away from ALL in may at the age of 20.please help find a way to keep any more young peaple from dying before thier time&leaving thier families heart broken and with a void that can never b filled without them.

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