Minister Heidi Hautala: Statement of Finland in the Round Table discussion of the High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable diseases

Strengthening national capacities, as well as appropriate policies to address prevention and control of non-communicable diseases

H.E. Ms. Heidi Hautala
Minister for International Development of Finland

High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on the
Prevention and Control of Non-communicable diseases

United Nations, New York
19 September, 2011

Mr./Madam Chair, Dear Colleagues

Finland is very grateful for this unique opportunity to discuss NCDs as a global priority at the United Nations. A healthy life for all is a key priority for my Government. Everyone has the right to the highest attainable health, and NCDs pose a serious global threat to this aim.

We all know that the many determinants of health are largely outside the remit of the health sector. This is why we so strongly promote the ‘Health in All Policies’ approach - first introduced by Finland five years ago. In Finland we have a long experience in multi-sectoral health promotion. Health issues are mainstreamed in all government policy-making, nationally and locally. I am very pleased to have the opportunity to share with you some of our experiences.

What should and could be done to reduce the burden of NCDs?

Prevention must be at the core of our efforts. A strong emphasis on health promotion is crucial. It is also essential to reduce risk factor levels in the whole population, not just focus on risk groups or individuals. There are many cost-effective tools available to do this. These include health education from an early age, preventive services for families, as well as legislation. Nutritional skills and physical activity need to form regular elements of the education system. In fact, one example I want to raise here is school feeding. In Finland we provide free school meals for all children. For the working population, subsidised canteen meals are available.

Structural measures are also needed to make healthier options more accessible and affordable. These include taxes and other fiscal tools. In Finland we have decided to raise taxes on alcohol, tobacco and unhealthy foods such as sweets and soft drinks. Alcohol advertising will be further limited, and we will work towards a smoke-free society. Multi-sectoral and multi-professional cooperation is extremely important. We will therefore strengthen cross-sectoral work to reduce social exclusion, poverty and health problems. To incorporate health and the reduction health inequalities into the activities of all administrative sectors, we have introduced a mandatory health impact assessment of all proposed legislation.

Health is the sum of many factors. It is linked to things such as trade, taxes, agricultural policy, urban planning, housing etc. Business and industry also have an important responsibility. They can promote healthy lifestyles – or work against them to advance narrow short term economic interests. In addition to government and business, the role of civil society in health promotion must be emphasised. In our delegation in this meeting we have three NGOs that are all very important actors in Finland in tackling NCDs.

NCDs are a rising problem all over the world, and place a huge burden on health care systems in low and middle income countries. Poverty eradication and sustainable development are directly linked to health. People living without access to the basic necessities of life, without good quality education, or in the margins of society do not have the means to make healthy choices.

In many developing countries, health system strengthening, and ensuring good basic health care services to the population are still great challenges. These obviously must be top priorities. At the same time, sustainable results will require addressing the issue of health in all relevant policies. Here, as elsewhere, international assistance can play an important catalytic role, but the ownership and commitment of each government to their people obviously is key.

It is important to share good practices and also to learn from mistakes. I invite you all to the 8th Global Conference on Health Promotion that we will organise in Helsinki in June 2013. It will be a great opportunity to continue this discussion.