As part of the work of the UN Interagency Task Force on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), the Russian Federation and the World Health Organization organized a side event during the UN General Assembly. The side event reviewed the work of the Task Force and its partners. This included the action that needs to be taken during the pandemic and beyond to meet the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, in line with the 2021 ECOSOC resolution on the work of the Task Force; progress on the newly established UN Multi-Partner Trust Fund to Catalyze Country Action for NCDs and Mental Health and new initiatives and publications.
Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus the WHO Director-General sounded the clarion call that COVID-19 must be a wake-up call for the global health and development community when it comes to NCDs and mental health at a meeting during the UN General Assembly this week. ‘We know that people living with NCDs and mental health conditions are more susceptible to COVID-19 and at greater risk of severe disease’ he said, adding, ‘The COVID-19 pandemic has badly disrupted the delivery of NCD services for diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation, and palliative care.'
Dr Tedros highlighted that at the same time, the pandemic provided an opportunity to innovate, rethink, and to step up our game, reminding everyone that, ‘COVID-19 is going to make it even more challenging to meet the NCD-related targets of the Sustainable Development Goals, especially in low- and middle-income countries.’ Dr Tedros described the new UN-wide Multi-Partner Trust Fund on NCDs and mental health that has recently been established by WHO, UNICEF and UNDP, as one that will be ‘country-led, with a focus on equity and impact in our collective drive towards universal health coverage.' ‘I call on all development partners to support the Trust Fund, a critical initiative whose time has come', he added. The UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore and UNDP’s Under-Secretary-General and Associate Administrator Usha Rao-Monari both emphasised that they were fully committed to ensuring the Fund is a success.
Dr Daniel Salinas, Minister of Health for Uruguay was proud to announce that Uruguay was committed to becoming a founding partner to guide the Fund’s strategic direction and safeguard its vision as an enabler for low- and middle- income countries to catalyse action in tackling NCDs and mental health conditions. Uruguay invited the whole international community to stand full square behind the new Fund. Dr Salinas’s call was echoed by Dr Francisco Duque III, Secretary of Health for Philippines, and many others when he said that the Trust Fund was a key development and would provide ‘an avenue to continue to support countries mobilize resources and to trigger increased action for the progressive realization of universal health coverage’.
Civil society was also clear on the urgent need to mobilize funds for the Trust Fund, which comes exactly ten years after the first political declaration on NCDs of the United Nations General Assembly. However, Katie Dain, CEO, NCD Alliance issued a warning that the Trust Fund’s success depended ‘on engagement and funding from [countries of] all income levels” and without it, it risked no more than being ‘an empty shell’. Highlighting the impact of the pandemic on those with NCDs and mental health conditions, Ms Dain reminded everyone on the need for an ‘integrated response for NCDs into COVID-19 as this presents an unmissable opportunity to increase value for money spent on the global response’.
Chantelle Booysen, who has lived experience with mental health joined from South Africa and provided a powerful testimonial, emphasising the importance of mobilising funds, but also the need to prioritise empathy, and meaningful engagement of those living with NCDs and mental health conditions as well as carers.
In response to a presentation given by the Task Force Secretariat, speakers expressed appreciation for the ongoing work of its members. Dr Carla Barnett, Secretary General of CARICOM expressed gratitude to the Task Force for stimulating a ‘One UN approach with an emphasis on whole-of-society solutions’ but it was clear from her and many others that much more was required of the UN system if it is to achieve the Task Force’s vision of a world with healthier people and a more prosperous future – and its commitment to support countries meet the NCD-related Sustainable Development Goals.
The meeting also saw 19 organizations as winners of the 2021 Task Force awards, the fourth year that the scheme has been run. In presenting the awards, Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, the WHO Deputy Director-General said, ‘We congratulate all those awarded today and we look forward to hearing progress on their work in the months ahead.’ She added, ‘We hope that these awards encourage even greater action both by those awarded and everyone else in responding the challenge of the NCD-related SDGs.’
Originally published by WHO