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BCUN Panel luncheon Sponsored by The International Food and Beverage Alliance June 13

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BCUN Panel luncheon Sponsored by The International Food and Beverage Alliance June 13

BCUN Panel luncheon Sponsored by The International Food and Beverage Alliance June 13

"Business Leaders Predict Serious Impact from Non-communicable Diseases Next 5 Years"

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That was a finding of a survey of 14,000 business leaders highlighted by David Bloom, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, at a panel luncheon hosted by the International Food & Beverage Alliance (IFBA) on June 13. “Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are definitely on the radar screen of the business community” Bloom told the group from UN Permanent Missions, UN agencies, and companies from the private sector. “The results were the same whether in low, medium, or high-income countries: half of business leaders say at least one NCD will have a serious impact on their company in the next five years, especially cardiovascular disease and cancer”. The impact of NCDs is expected to be greater than communicable diseases—for example HIV/AIDS, malaria, and TB-- especially in countries with poor healthcare or without access to healthcare. The World Economic Forum conducted the survey of business leaders in 139 countries.

The panel luncheon event, which was held with the support of the Business Council for the UN, a program of United Nations Foundation, was timed during the lead-up to the General Assembly President’s high-level interactive hearing on NCDs and the NCDs Summit in September.

“NCDs are a major threat to development, and any fight against poverty cannot be won unless we acknowledge that” said Leslie Ramsammy, Guyana’s Minister of Health. “Formerly believed to be diseases primarily of the affluent in the West”, he added, “we now know that the bulk of NCD illnesses is borne by poor people everywhere”. Sixty percent of deaths globally are due to NCDs. “There has been a realization that while the Millennium Development Goals were important to pursue, there was no way to succeed without an acknowledgement of the great impact that NCDs were having; indeed several gains made were lost” said Ramsammy.

Health Spending: A Good Return on Investment
The global economic burden is formidable and the cost of intervention is high. “But not intervening is far more costly” said Bloom. Bloom is collaborating with the World Economic Forum on a study to identify the global economic burden of NCDs-- a key, he said, to getting the attention of economic policy makers and leaders. “We wanted to express the burden in dollar terms, not just human terms. We learned this with HIV/AIDS…there were so many arguments, but the economic arguments were the key to contemplating the end of AIDS.” He encouraged the audience to view health spending—on screening, prevention, and early treatment— as an investment which will yield a handsome rate of return. “NCDs will have a huge impact on economic growth because of reduced labor productivity and the expense of treatment”.

Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of UNFPA , reinforced the magnitude of the NCDs problem. “No country can afford the required care of NCDs when they hit. Today it’s HIV and malaria and those have ODA to augment country funds. In 10-20 years we will overcome HIV and malaria, but then we will be confronted with NCDs, which will overcome the economies” of developing countries. The key, he said, is to act now to prevent, promote, and address the causes. Osotimehin believes governments must implement an integrated approach, and spend more on promotion, prevention, and education. Key to the solution, he believes, is convincing populations that a lifetime approach to health is needed. “We need to get people to understand that vulnerability starts at birth; it is lifestyle that determines who will get NCDs.” He believes the key to success is to make it a personal and community responsibility—not a hospital-based or health system-based responsibility. “The people and the communities have the responsibility to look after themselves “.

So critical is the need for promotion that Minister Ramsammy said he has hired media people—not the health industry—to spread the word about NCDs and how to prevent them among his nation’s population. Professor Bloom immediately praised this direction, and suggested against asking the private sector for money; instead governments should invite private sector experts to develop the communications. “The public sector does a poor job of messaging in my view”. In the same vein, Osotimehin weighed in: “You should ask the private sector for help in the area of their core competencies”.

How the private sector can be successfully engaged after the upcoming September NCDs Summit has been the focus of McGill University’s World Platform for Health & Economic Convergence for ten years, according to Professor Janet Beauvais. “We all talk about the importance of multi-sector partnerships. But there are very few examples of best practices or systematic documentation of them so that results can be shared between companies”. Beauvais pointed out that while the private sector is led by huge companies with a large scope in much of the world, small businesses, micro businesses, and small companies financed by micro finance in other parts of the world also want to find solutions but can’t participate in dialogs like today’s event. These companies are low on resources, Beauvais said, but they, too, need to figure out how to address NCDs. “Companies need to share their learning and innovative models which can be adapted by smaller companies in their own settings”. Every sector has an opportunity and a role to play in delivering results. She believes the September Summit must identify effective ways to do this, as well as to measure the impact of policy at the national and local levels. “Multi-stakeholder mechanisms should be included in the NCDs Outcomes Document with a 5-10 year outlook”.

The panel event was moderated by Dr. Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations. The panelist views were bookended with remarks by Donna Hrinak, a vice president of PepsiCo, and Christina Drotz-Jonasson, an assistant vice president of Nestlé, who reiterated that government cannot solve the NCDs problem alone, nor can the private sector. “We need to work together for the best solutions and outcomes”.

IFBA is a group of food and beverage companies with a presence in every nation of the world, which was formed in 2008 to encourage working together on key areas recognized by WHO as crucial to implementing the Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health.

Produced by Alma Hidalgo, an intern at the UN Foundation and master’s candidate at The New School with a focus in international affairs.