NCDs take to the global stage in New York

23 July 2018 | Policy

Louise Meincke is World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) International’s Head of Policy & Public Affairs. She attended the interactive stakeholder hearing in New York ahead of the third United Nations High Level Meeting (UN HLM) on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) to be held on 27 September 2018.

Walking in from the heat and humidity of New York’s streets to the Trusteeship Council Chamber of the United Nations Headquarters signalled the beginning of the interactive hearing – part of the preparatory process for the third UN HLM of the General Assembly on NCDs. The room was filled with representatives from government, civil society and the private sector to engage in a day of discussion around progress and challenges towards reaching the Global NCD targets by 2025. Diverse areas such as scaling up action to tackle NCDs, financing for NCDs, multi-sectoral partnerships and political leadership and accountability were all on the agenda.

The interactive hearing formed an important part of the negotiations by UN Member States on the outcome document of the upcoming UN HLM, which will set the tone for future government priorities and action around NCDs. Before entering the room, it was clear that battle lines were already being drawn around sensitive issues such as fiscal policies; in particular taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB). James Chau, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Goodwill Ambassador on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), set the tone: “You can make sure of this right now: the political document to be adopted in September has not been finalised. So, what you say here today is not just a regular exercise, but an opportunity to influence the diplomats shaping this Declaration…And a word on industry tactics: Big Soda and Big Sugar – don’t be inspired by Big Tobacco. Don’t take your lessons from their playbook. Be better than that.” 

WCRF International’s role in tackling NCDs

I made a statement at the discussions (following a scramble to see which delegate could press the button in front of you first!) calling for high-level attendance at the UN HLM (34 heads of state and government took part in the first UN HLM in 2011, none of them did at the second UN HLM in 2014), the development and implementation of evidence-informed nutrition policies (including SSB taxes), and robust governance mechanisms to manage conflicts of interest when engaging in public-private partnerships. 

WCRF’s recent report, Building Momentum: lessons on implementing a robust sugar sweetened beverage taxoutlines how policymakers can overcome barriers and challenges in the nutrition policy process, including overcoming lack of political will and industry interference and mitigating the risk of lawsuits and trade disputes. Our report couldn’t have come at a more opportune time, as the private sector halted any further local SSB taxes being implemented in the State of California through successfully lobbying for a pre-emption policy, while the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld Philadelphia’s SSB tax earlier this month as constitutional. 

NCD prevention: a human right

With the negotiations continuing in New York between Member States on the outcome document, the public health community is waiting to see to what extent governments will put the welfare and health of its citizens first. As James Chau put it: “We need to see NCDs not as a detached health agenda but as a fundamental core of human rights – our right, my right; to breathe clean air, eat nutritious food, and live in a health-promoting environment.”  

Louise Meincke | 23 July 2018