Statement by Minister Hautala: High-level Meeting of the UN General Assembly on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable diseases

Statement by Minister Hautala: High-level Meeting of the UN General Assembly on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable diseases

Statement by
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 President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all, let me align myself with the statement of the European Union.

Non-communicable diseases are a growing problem in the developing world, and a huge challenge to achieving the internationally agreed Millennium Development Goals. Developed countries unfortunately do not provide a very good example here, as their lifestyles are closely linked with many of these diseases.

At the same time, developed countries have accumulated a lot of experience on how to tackle NCDs. In Finland, for instance, we have done pioneering work in the area of prevention of heart and coronary diseases – the North Carelia Project and the name of Pekka Puska are familiar to many. Our emphasis is on health promotion and primary health care. These are by far the best means also in the developing world to fight NCDs. The importance of health system strengthening cannot be over-emphasized.

Health is affected by several factors – many outside the remit of the health sector itself. Healthy eating, for instance, is linked to agricultural policy, trade, urban planning, tax policy, and educational system. School meals and health education have a central role. Business and industry also have their responsibility. They can promote healthy lifestyles – or work against them to advance narrow short term economic interests. Tobacco is perhaps the clearest ex-ample of a commercial product harmful to public health. It kills nearly 6 million each year, dramatically reduces the quality of life of millions of people, and is a massive burden on national health budgets. Food industry provides another example, as does marketing of formula milk, for instance. Policy coherence is the key. A comprehensive ‘Health in All Policies’ approach is needed.

Gender issues are central when talking about health promotion and sustainable development. Women often suffer most from the effects of poverty and illness – but even more importantly, they are powerful agents of change. Their behaviour and choices can make a huge difference in the efforts to tackle NCDs and other diseases. Maternal health, and sexual and reproductive health and rights, are also relevant in this context. Women’s access to primary health care, and their right to choose, serves them, their families, and society as a whole.

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. Lasting results require a genuine commitment to a society, where everybody is provided with the tools to actually be able to make choices. Basic education and health education have a crucial role here; they are also very cost effective ways to promote health.

As with any aspect of sustainable development, primary responsibility lies within each country, and with the commitment and accountability of each government to their people. Develop-ment aid can only have a catalytic role. Domestic resources must be mobilised. Some health promotion activities in fact are very cost effective – for instance taxing tobacco, alcohol, or un-healthy food and beverages. At the same time, of course, international cooperation is also needed. Finland has managed so far, despite challenging economic times, to secure an increasing trend in its official development assistance. In addition to bilateral and NGO aid, we channel substantial amounts of ODA through the EU, as well as the UN, and other agencies that work in different ways to promote health and linked issues. In our development policy, gender is a cross-cutting theme.

The role of civil society in health promotion is crucial. Our delegation – which includes three NGO representatives – here at the NCD meeting, speaks for itself when it comes to the role of NGOs in health promotion in Finland. NGOs are very important actors in the Finnish ’NCD scene’. One example of their work is the ‘Better Choice’ symbol, developed by the Finnish Heart Association, which helps consumers make healthier choices.

In addition to being a value in itself, health is an important factor in promoting positive eco-nomic development. A healthy population is a productive population. NCDs have a major social and economic impact. They slow down economic development. There are also many synergies between health and ‘green economy’ – take cycling for instance!

We must also continue to tackle communicable diseases like Aids which has become a chronic disease, and is a huge concern to the poorest countries in particular. Many developing coun-tries are in fact faced with a double burden, of communicable and non-communicable diseas-es. For Finland, UNAIDS and UNFPA, for instance, are key partners in promoting HIV/Aids and the closely linked SRHR agendas.

World Health Organization is the lead actor in global health promotion. It gives strategic guid-ance to Member States, and coordinates international response. WHO has been the forerunner in the fight against tobacco. The framework convention on tobacco control is an unprece-dented piece of international legislation, extending into many areas outside health, such as trade, customs and taxation.

The United Nations as a whole has a central role in promoting sustainable development, and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, including in the area of health. It is crucial to continue pushing forward with UN reforms, to make sure that the UN system can re-spond in the best possible way, to the challenges it is faced with.

Thank you.