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Everyone has a Stake in Preventing and Controlling Cancer

September 19, 2011

Dr. Seffrin is currently attending the United Nations High-level Meeting on Non-communicable Diseases as a member of the U.S. delegation. He is working closely with the ACS Global Health team.

As I look to the week ahead, I am struck by the wide range of people I’ll be working with to reset the global health community’s priorities to prominently include prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases. The UN High-level Meeting, the Clinton Global Initiative, and related events in New York this week will bring together heads of state, heads of companies, individual advocates, and civil society groups like the American Cancer Society to launch a sustained and collaborative effort. This is as it should be. Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and other NCDs are everybody’s problem – and everyone from across civil society must have a stake in the solution. It is encouraging to see the public, private, and nonprofit sectors come together to deal with it.

While governments and nonprofit organizations have a clear mission to protect citizens from the damage caused by disease, some may be surprised to learn the private sector has just as strong a reason to be involved. There is a compelling business case for investing in the fight against NCDs.

In addition to harming families and communities as individuals become sick or die from NCDs, this group of diseases has proved to be a drag on national economies. In the US alone, cancer is projected to drain nearly $21 billion from the economy this year as a result of lost productivity, and another $140 billion resulting from premature death.  Globally, the numbers are even more astonishing. Data released this week from the World Economic Forum estimates that NCDs cause annual global economic losses of nearly $500 billion. 

As daunting as this is, a portion of NCD diagnoses are attributable to modifiable risk factors – things we can do something about – such as tobacco use, diet and exercise, and compliance with proven early detection recommendations. So, while we don’t expect these diseases to disappear entirely in the near term, here at home, and around the world, we have opportunities to substantially reduce risk and catch these diseases earlier, when they’re more treatable – simply by encouraging people to act on what we already know. This can bring down costs for medical care, lost productivity, and other associated costs.

The American Cancer Society actively works with the business community to encourage involvement in our mission to help people stay well and get well, to find cures, and to fight back against cancer. Today I will be working with leaders of some of the country’s most respected companies at the American Cancer Society CEOs Against Cancer® program. We will talk seriously about how business can make a difference against NCDs, taking our work with the corporate sector to new levels of innovation and collaboration. Cancer and other NCDs are relentless – and will require us to be even more so, with widespread involvement and fresh thinking to bring these diseases under control.

There has never been a more challenging, nor a more ideal time to make progress against cancer and other NCDs. All sectors of society need to work closely if we are to succeed. We’re on the right path, and I’d like to see the private sector step into a more prominent leadership role with regard to promoting prevention and early detection of cancer. It’s good health policy, and also good for the bottom line.

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