On 24 September 2020, the Friends of the Task Force met in the margins of the high-level segment of the 75thsession of the United Nations General Assembly. Participants included Member States, UN agencies and non-State actors.
The meeting was co-hosted by the Government of the Russian Federation and the World Health Organization, and co-sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme, the International Development Law Organization, and the Secretariat of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
The meeting provided an opportunity to review the contribution of the Task Force to global efforts to scale up prevention and control NCDs, with a special focus on NCDs during the COVID-19 pandemic. The WHO Director-General also announced the fifteen winners of the 2020 UNIATF Awards.
The Task Force Secretariat provided a brief overview of Task Force activities over the last year.
Mikhail Murashko, Minister of Health of the Russian Federation, highlighted the importance of a systematic approach to combating NCDs and expressed his appreciation of the work done by the Task Force in promoting multi-sectoral collaboration in the area of NCDs, including through the development of the national NCD investment cases under the WHO-UNDP joint programme. The Russian Federation is now providing an additional $ 5 million over the next five years to build on this work. Minister Murashko welcomed contributions from Italy, the European Commission and the Gulf Health Council for the work of the Task Force.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, emphasized the importance of strengthening NCD response during and beyond COVID-19. He highlighted the impact of the pandemic on NCDs and mental health and that strong action on NCDs must be an integral part of the COVID-19 response and recovery. The Director-General reminded participants that he had recently launched a joint WHO, UNDP and Task Force publication, Responding to NCDs during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr Tedros described WHO’s commitment to work with Task Force members to establish the NCD and Mental Health Multi-Partner Trust Fund. Once established, Dr Tedros said that he would be calling on partners to mobilize additional resources beyond WHO’s budget to scale up support to countries for their response to NCDs.
“There’s no doubt that COVID-19 is a setback to our efforts to beat NCDs, but we cannot allow it to become an excuse for failing to deliver on our commitments. On contrary, we must use it as motivation to work all the harder!” Dr Tedros.
Aksel Jacobsen, State Secretary of International Development for the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, described Norway’s NCD Development Policy (2020-2024), which will support low-income countries in their efforts to address NCDs. He underscored the high burden of NCD and COVID-19 comorbidity. The State Secretary called upon countries to ensure that NCD prevention, detection, and treatment is included in their COVID-19 response plans, highlighting the importance of political commitment to achieve equality and equity in access to health protection.
“The long-time global underinvestment in NCD prevention and control is part of the reason behind this tragic development.” Hon Jakobsen.
Dr Osagie Ehanire, Minister of Health of Nigeria, thanked the Task Force for its mission to Nigeria earlier this year, indicating that the mission’s recommendations have been approved by the President, and an implementation unit to implement the recommendations has been established.
Dr Jennifer Harries, Deputy Chief Medical Officer of the United Kingdom, spoke about the UK’s experience in fighting major NCD risk factors, as well as obesity, and the UK’s efforts to support people to stay mentally well during the pandemic. Dr Harries emphasized the importance of multilateral approaches to address NCDs, highlighting national WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) investment cases that the UK has been supporting.
“The UK would support further joint programming across multilaterals through the Multi-Partner Trust Fund to catalyse action on NCDs in low- and middle-income countries at such a critical time.” Dr Harries.
Mr Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency described IAEA’s collaboration with WHO over many years, especially with regards the Human Health Programme to address NCD challenges across a range of medical issues. Mr Grossi highlighted IAEA’s work in building capacity for NCD and COVID-19 detection, which has involved the provision of thousands of health professionals with resources on the use of radiology for diagnosis and treatment.
“Medical imaging has had a significant impact on our understanding of COVID-19-related signs and symptoms.” Mr Grossi.
Emanuela Del Re, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy, shared the experience of Italy in dealing with NCDs though promotion of healthy diets and food quality assurance.
“Healthy lifestyles and balanced diet not only prevent NCDs, but also have a positive impact on people’s general health, especially children in the first years of life.” Hon Del Re.
Ahmed Mohammed Obaid Al Saidi, Minister of Health of the Sultanate of Oman, highlighted the increased use of innovative digital technology solutions for NCD care which emerged from the constraints imposed by COVID-19.
“In Oman service pathways for those seeking NCD care have been rearranged to ensure safety for patients and safe delivery of services and medications. This had undoubtedly invited innovation and the introduction of new measures that rely on technology.” Hon Al Saidi.
Ms Jan Beagle, Director General of the International Development Law Organization, stressed the importance of the rule of law and functioning of legal and regulatory frameworks for adequate and equitable NCD and COVID-19 care for all.
“Now, more than ever, COVID-19 has exposed and is being aggravated by the entrenched injustices and equalities under which too many people still live and from which no nation can claim to be exempt.” Ms. Beagle.
Ms Katie Dain, Chief Executive Officer of the NCD Alliance welcomed the Task Force’s recent attention on NCD treatment and management as well as the development of the Multi-Partner Trust Fund.
“COVID-19 must be a wake-up call for governments and political leaders to value, prioritize, and invest in health, NCDs, and prevention. We simply won’t be prepared for the next pandemic, or any other health threat unless we really get to grips with the burden of NCDs.” Ms. Dain.
Dr Adriana Blanco Marquizo, Head of Secretariat of the FCTC spoke about the threat posed by tobacco industry in the context of COVID-19 and NCDs, and the important role that the WHO FCTC plays in directing national and international effort at reducing global tobacco prevalence. Dr Blanco highlighted the urgent need to support tobacco users who want to quit, pointing to sensitization of population about importance of health that occurred due to COVID-19.
Ms Lena Nanushyan, from the Ministry of Health in Armenia, highlighted the experience of Armenia in working with the Task Force on development and implementation of a national NCD investment case. Ms Nanushyan underscored that the results of the investment case were used to argue for the adoption of a stricter tobacco control law earlier this year.
Dr Douglas Webb, Cluster Leader, HIV Health and Development Group at the United Nations Development Programme,spoke about the opportunity to address NCDs through national COVID-19 response and recovery plans, which increasingly reveal synergies with NCD-related action within and beyond the health sector. Dr Webb endorsed the Multi-Partner Trust Fund, noting the significant funding gap in responding to NCDs.
“The Multi-Partner Trust Fund is a critical technical tool to allow member states to advance on strengthening their NCD response.” Dr Webb.
Mr Yahya Alfasi, from the Gulf Health Council, informed the participants about the ongoing work to develop NCD investment cases for six countries across the region through the WHO-UNDP joint programme under the Task Force.
Mr William Twomey, from Johnson and Johnson, praised the Access Initiative for Quitting Tobacco (AIQT) to improve global access to tobacco cessation support, stating that it was an important step to curbing the very high economic and social costs that tobacco imposes on our society.