WHO on NCDs and COVID-19 on eve of Week for Action  Share

September 5, 2020

The World Health Organization hosted two media briefings on the eve of the Global Week for Action on NCDs, with Director General Dr Tedros drawing attention to NCDs in the COVID-19 pandemic context, and the global awareness campaign calling for greater action on NCDs.

DrTedros references W4A on NCDs in press conference video snapshot

During one of WHO's regular COVID-19 press conferences held for media on Friday 4th September, WHO Director General Dr Tedros said

“COVID-19 has preyed on people with non-communicable diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and respiratory disease.

Globally, NCDs and their risk factors are increasing vulnerability to COVID-19 infection and the likelihood of worse outcomes, including in younger people.  

The odds of developing severe COVID-19 have been found to be as much as seven times higher in patients with obesity. 

Smokers have been found to be one-and-a-half times more likely to have severe complications from COVID-19.

And a systematic review has shown that people with diabetes are between 2-4 times more likely to have severe symptoms or die from COVID-19.

The pandemic has underscored the urgency of addressing NCDs and their risk factors.

Next week is Global Week for Action on NCDs, which aims to increase accountability by governments, policy makers, industries, academia, and civil society to reduce the NCD burden globally and increase health and equality.

Today, I am pleased to launch a set of publications that have been developed under the UN NCD Inter-Agency Task Force that call for urgent action on NCDs during and beyond the pandemic.

First, we call for the voices of people living with NCDs to be heard in all discussions about policies that directly affect them.

Second, we call for global financing instruments to be extended to low-income countries that request support for NCDs.

And third, we call for constructive dialogue partnership with the private sector.”

Read Dr Tedros’ full remarks from the media briefing, where, when discussing any future COVID-19 vaccine, noted that "when supply is limited, priority must be given to vaccinating essential workers and those most at risk – including older people and those with underlying conditions... In other words, the first priority must be to vaccinate some people in all countries, rather than all people in some countries."

Dr Bente Mikkelsen, Director of NCDs at WHO also spoke during the briefing, noting that several recent surveys have shown major disruptions in care for people living with NCDs, compromising efforts to achieve SDG 3.4 to reduce premature mortality from NCDs. Further, Dr Mikkelsen noted that many of the people severely ill and dying from COVID-19, including young people, are living with NCDs and co-morbidities, noting the pandemic as a ‘clear call to action’ to integrate NCDs into health security and preparedness- 

Recognising that primary task at the moment is to defeat COVID-19, Dr Mikkelsen noted that we have to also work to continue to strengthen the health system 

“We cannot continue in the same way because any new pandemic will really be a threat to people living with chronic diseases.”

Watch the full WHO daily briefing from Friday 4th September here.

Graphic from UN NCD Taskforce calling for NCDs in COVID recovery plans


Also on Friday, The UN Interagency Taskforce on NCDs launched a new policy brief Responding to non-communicable diseases during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. The brief provides guidance for governments, policymakers, UN agencies and development partners to address non-communicable diseases (NCDs) as an integral part of the COVID-19 response and in broader efforts for achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The brief was developed by UNDP and WHO in partnership with the UN Inter-Agency Task Force on the Prevention and Control of NCDs. 

“NCDs, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory disease, are amplifying the impacts of COVID-19, and COVID-19 is exacerbating the burden of NCDs, particularly in already disadvantaged communities. Almost one fourth (22%) of the global population is estimated to have an underlying condition that increases their vulnerability to COVID-19, and most of these conditions are NCDs. Urgent action across sectors is needed to address the root causes of NCDs and increase access to affordable and quality treatments and prevention.”

Dr Bente Mikkelsen, Director of NCDs, WHO and Dr Nick Banatvala, Head of Secretariat, United Nations Task Force on NCDs discussed the new publications during a UN Press Briefing earlier on Friday. Watch it here.