Press releases

Act now to address threat from noncommunicable diseases, WHO is urged

Fifty-sixth session of the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, 19 to 23 September 2005

NOUMEA, New Caledonia—Countries and areas in the Western Pacific Region and international agencies need to scale up their response to the growing threat posed by noncommunicable diseases if health services are not to be overwhelmed by the problem, a report for the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.

Noncommunicable diseases, notably heart problems and cancer, already account for seven out of every 10 deaths in the Western Pacific Region—and the situation is expected to worsen in countries and areas in economic transition if urgent measures are not taken, according to a report commissioned by WHO.

Recognizing the Western Pacific Region's growing burden of noncommunicable diseases, many of which are preventable, Dr Shigeru Omi, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, had called for the report as part of WHO's Noncommunicable Diseases Prevention and Control Programme.

The report was presented to the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, WHO's governing body in the Region, currently meeting in New Caledonia to evaluate WHO's work in the Region.

"There appears a real danger of under-resourced health services in many transitional economies being overwhelmed by the demand for chronic illness care," the report stated. "While noncommunicable disease control is a priority for the governments of most countries, this did not translate into resource-allocation decisions as a result of other pressures."

The report assessed the conceptual framework of the current strategy for the prevention and control of noncommunicable disease in five countries: China, the Philippines, Samoa, Tonga and Viet Nam. While the programme in the Region appears on track to meet all the strategy's expected results for the 2004-2005 biennium, there is evidence of a rapid increase in the prevalence of chronic noncommunicable diseases.

In China, for example, surveys in 2002 revealed the following trends:

  • 31% increase in hypertension, involving 160 million people above 18 years of age since 1991;
  • 40% increase in diabetes in six years since 1996, involving 20 million people;
  • 39% increase in overweight people since 1992, involving 200 million people;
  • 97% increase in obesity, involving 60 million people since 1992.

The report acknowledged the high technical standard of WHO's work, but noted that greater resources are needed to meet the growing challenges posed by noncommunicable diseases in the Region.

Both increased national investment and WHO technical support and funding are critical at this stage of development of noncommunicable disease control efforts, the report said.

The report's authors recommended the following measures:

  • strengthening WHO's capacity in noncommunicable diseases, including in areas of advocacy, resource mobilization, integration and coordination, national planning and policy development and surveillance;
  • expanding WHO's response to noncommunicable diseases in the Region, commensurate with the current and anticipated burden, and consistent with the new priority to be given to this area within WHO globally; and
  • coordinating and building relationships with donor agencies and other funding bodies

For more information, please contact Dr Gauden Galea, WHO Regional Adviser in Noncommunicable diseases, email: ; Ms Marilu Lingad, assistant/Public Information Office, at (68 7) 951 636; email: ; or
Mr Peter Cordingley, at (687) 951 635; email: .

*The 37 countries and areas comprising the WHO Western Pacific Region are: American Samoa, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Hong Kong (China), Japan, Kiribati, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Macao (China), Malaysia, the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Mongolia, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the Pitcairn Islands, the Republic of Korea, Samoa, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Viet Nam, and Wallis and Futuna.

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