Tuesday, 25 October 2011
No targets. No commitment. No rules.
These were the reasons why the United Nations Political Declaration of the High-level meeting on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases at the General Assembly in September was met with disappointment by consumer campaigners.
There were no time-bound goals or targets to eliminate industrially produced transfat in food and to discourage the production and marketing of unhealthy foods.
Neither was there a clear commitment to implement prevention policies or rules to manage the potential conflicts of interest that arise when interacting with the private sector.
I was invited by the President of the General Assembly Joseph Deiss to speak at this high-level meeting as a civil-society speaker at a roundtable session on "fostering international cooperation, as well as coordination, to address non-communicable diseases".
There, we had the ridiculous state of affairs whereby representatives of the pharmaceutical industry and the food and drink industry also spoke as civil society!
The World Health Organization (WHO) needs to clearly recognise the differences between business-interest NGOs (BINGOs) and public-interest NGOs (PINGOs)
Consumers International (CI), along with hundreds of other organisations, has signed up to a statement of concern by the Conflicts of Interest Coalition calling for the establishment of a code of conduct to govern civil society engagement in which the process of policy development is protected from the influence of the for-profit sector, as they are part of the problem in relation to tobacco, alcohol and marketing of food to children.
We support the development of a ‘code of conduct’ ethical framework, which will guide “interactions” rather than “partnerships” with the private sector in addressing the prevention of NCDs.
The overall annual death toll from NCDs is estimated at 36 million worldwide. Unless addressed, fatalities from NCDs are predicted to increase by 17% between 2008 and 2018.
Governments must take the lead in coordinating with WHO, as lead agency, to ensure policy coherence with all of the UN Global Strategies in addressing NCDs in relation to trade, procurement and investment policies.
CI continues to work with WHO, especially on the issue of marketing of food and beverages to children. In September, CI published a manual designed to support governments and civil society to monitor the marketing of food to children.
We can only hope that the failure of this declaration to deliver more ambitious outcomes will be a 'wake up call' to all member states and create a new sense of purpose that will lead to the development of ambitious global targets and indicators on NCDs before the end of 2012.
In the words of WHO director-general Dr Margaret Chan: “Countries cannot treat their way out of NCDs. Prevention is crucial.”