“Everyone Has a Role:" Update from the 2014 World Health Assembly

Note: This blog post is being co-published on the Global Health Council and International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation websites.

This week, I am participating in the 67th World Health Assembly (WHA) as a civil society delegate. WHA takes place annually in Geneva, Switzerland, and is the supreme decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO). 

As I have shared in my annual “WHA Update” blog posts since 2011, the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation is engaging in WHA, which brings together health ministers and global health leaders from around the world, because, in part, of its focus on noncommunicable disease (NCD) prevention and control.  NCDs include heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and chronic respiratory disease, and are responsible for two-thirds of all deaths globally. For those of you who are new to this topic, check out my Food Insight Newsletter article: What’s This Global Discussion On “NCD’s” and Do You Have a Role? An Update on Noncommunicable Disease Prevention and Control Efforts.

Pictured: Kimberly Reed, Senior Vice President, International Food Information Council, and Executive Director, International Food Information Council Foundation

This afternoon, WHA Committee A will consider several NCD-related issues, including:

  • Terms of reference for the global coordination mechanism on the prevention and control of NCDs;
  • Terms of reference for the United Nations Interagency Task Force on the Prevention and Control of NCDs; and a
  • Limited set of action plan indicators for the WHO global action plan for the prevention and control of NCDs 2013–2020.

These efforts also will pave the way for some key events to be held later this year at the United Nations in New York, including:

  • A just-announced June 19 NCD Civil Society Hearing (in which the IFIC Foundation will participate);
  • A July 10-11 High-level Meeting on NCDs entitled “Taking stock of progress in implementing Political Declaration and scaling up of multistakeholder and national multisectoral responses NCDs, including in context of post-2015 development agenda” (involvingpolitical leaders and ministers of health); and
  • In September, during the UN General Assembly (involving Heads of State and Government), a High-level Review of NCDs.

At all of these gatherings, the IFIC Foundation will continue to emphasize that science-based communications should be a part of the NCD solution. As former U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin so appropriately noted at our 2011 IFIC Foundation Global Diet and Physical Activity Communications Summit: “Insights to Motivate Healthful, Active Lifestyles,” NCD prevention and control "messaging has to include effective science based behavior focused communication; communications that are clear, useful and motivating to the intended audiences.”

Pictured: WHA Committee A discussing NCDs
Another important part of participating in WHA is engaging and building bridges with stakeholders from around the world. One stakeholder very important to NCD communications that I met this week is Marie-Agnes Heine, Communications Officer at the World Health Organization. I asked Marie-Agnes: “What role does communication play in the fight against NCDs and obesity?” She responded:
“Worldwide, two out of three people die from cancer, diabetes, heart diseases or respiratory diseases.  Many of them do not reach the age of 70. Communication is key if we want to prevent people from dying too young. Tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity increase the risk of noncommunicable diseases. We know what to do to address this threat and are reaching out to politicians and parliamentarians but also private sector, health professionals, communities, parents and consumers. They all have to take action [emphasis added] to promote food and lifestyle that offer every child the chance to lead a long and healthy life.”

Another person taking action on the NCD communications front is Dr. Scott Ratzan,a pioneer in the areas of health communication, health literacy, and diplomacy who co-authored the definition of health literacy that serves as the basis for U.S. efforts. This morning, during a side event hosted by The Center for Global Health and Diplomacy (GHD) entitled “Communicating Uncertainty – Making Smart Choicesin Policy and Public Health,” Dr. Ratzan announced that he will launch a new journal – Global Health Communication – this fall. The journal, which will be “open access” (provide free access to all of its articles), will better inform and provide best practices to those of us who are focused on NCD communications. Click here to watch this and other GHD events taking place this week at WHA.

The IFIC Foundation also hopes that you will take on a NCD role. We invite you to start the discussion and become a part of the NCD solution by reading and sharing our one-page fact sheet on communication strategies to help reduce the prevalence of NCDs, which is available in the six official United Nations languages: English, Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish. We also offer a variety of resources on our NCD webpage. 

Pictured: Dr. Scott Ratzan, second from left
As noted in a May 2012 peer-reviewed Nutrition Reviews article, we believe that “[w]hen considering next steps and how to move ahead on NCD-related communication strategies . . . it is important that all stakeholders – including those from government, civil society, research and clinical academia, and industry – become partners, not adversaries. To be successful, health officials, health professionals, communicators, and other stakeholders cannot work in silos. Instead, the public and private sectors must work together to develop and deliver consistent messaging.”

In essence, everyone has a role!