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First Global Ministerial Conference on Healthy Lifestyles and Non-communicable Disease Control

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Moscow, Russia
April 28, 2011

Thank you, Madam Chair. Mr. Prime Minister, Director General, my fellow Ministers of Health, other distinguished guests, I’m pleased to join you in Moscow for the first Ministerial Meeting on Non-communicable Diseases.

I want to commend Director General Chan for bringing together the international community to address this growing threat to our nations’ health and prosperity.

I also want to thank my fellow panelists for being here to share their experiences and join this global call to action.

And I want to thank Prime Minister Putin, Minister Golikova and the Russian Ministry of Health and Social Development, not just for being our hosts, but also for their partnership. Yesterday, Minister Golikova and I held the second meeting of our bilateral Health Working Group, and non-communicable diseases will be a major focus for us going forward.

For years, we in the international community have worked together to battle infectious diseases. We have coordinated our efforts to respond to unexpected epidemics like the recent H1N1 flu. And we have joined forces to reduce the devastating toll that diseases like malaria and tuberculosis still take in too many parts of the world. This work will continue to be incredibly important in the years to come.

But over the past few decades, chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, and stroke have emerged as an equally dangerous or even greater health threat for many countries, including the United States.

Today in the United States, chronic diseases account for 70 percent of deaths and limit the activities of tens of millions more Americans each year. Partly because these diseases are becoming more common, some experts have warned that this generation of American children could be the first to have shorter life spans than their parents

This is not just a health issue. The growing prevalence of chronic disease is also a major driver of rising health care costs that are putting a growing burden on government, business, and family budgets – accounting for seventy-five percent of our health care spending.

I know that many countries in the developed and developing worlds are seeing these same trends. The World Health Organization estimates that between 2005 and 2015, China will lose $558 billion in economic growth due to chronic disease, India will lose $236 billion, and the Russian Federation will lose $303 billion – and that’s without even taking into account the human costs.

Unless we do a better job preventing and treating these diseases, the cost will keep going up, especially for the countries that are least fortunate. So I’m glad that we have this opportunity to get together to learn from each other. The more we work together, the faster we will be able to test new strategies, learn what works, and implement them in our own communities.

Today, I’d like to briefly share some of the steps we’re taking in the US to address chronic disease and then talk about some of the ways we’re working to address chronic disease around the world.

Here in the US, we have a two-part strategy when it comes to chronic disease. The first part is prevention.

We know that the reason chronic diseases have taken a bigger toll in the last few decades is not just that many of our countries are aging. It’s also our lifestyles. Many of us are eating bigger portions and less healthy foods, but exercising less. Too many people still smoke.

In the US today, two out of every three adults are obese or overweight. Two out of three. And though we’ve understood the dangers of tobacco use for years, one in five Americans still smoke.

So one of the questions we’ve asked is, how can we make it easier for people to make healthy choices?

And one of our answers has been putting more information in people’s hands. For example, one of the key provisions of historic tobacco control legislation signed by President Obama in 2009 was a requirement for new graphic warning labels that will cover at least half of the front and back of a cigarette box. With these warning labels, people won’t just read about what smoking could do to their body. They’ll actually see it.

This is an area where we’ve learned from many of you who have been using these graphic warnings for years. And we’re hopeful that these new labels, along with the other tools in the new law, will convince more Americans to give up smoking and more young Americans not to start.

We also know that where you live in matters. That’s why we’re working with communities across America to support proven strategies for promoting healthy lifestyles like giving kids more opportunities to exercise in school and bringing supermarkets to underserved neighborhoods so residents can get fresh fruits and vegetables.

There are cities and towns across America that have developed innovative approaches for promoting healthy lifestyles. So a big part of our strategy is simply supporting these communities so that they can become role models for the rest of the country.

This is the first part of our strategy: making investments to keep people healthy and well. But we know that no matter how successful our prevention and wellness efforts, we will not eliminate chronic disease overnight. So part two of our strategy is to help people get the best care possible so their conditions don’t become more serious.

We know that today more than a quarter of Americans have multiple chronic conditions. That means that to get the care they need, they must often see several different doctors and take numerous medications.

That puts them at greater risk of complications, including adverse reactions to medicines, or confusion resulting from conflicting medical advice. To stay healthy, they need their doctors and nurses to be able to work together to coordinate care.

And that’s what we’re trying to help them do. For example, as part of the health reform legislation signed by President Obama, we’re supporting new models of care where health care providers work together in teams to help people manage their chronic conditions. And we’re training more primary care providers who often play a central role in care coordination.

What connects both parts of our strategy is that we don’t believe in one-size-fits-all solutions. Instead, our strategy is to work with state and local governments, communities, schools, food producers, doctors, nurses and other partners to identify the best ideas and help them spread.

As we move forward with these efforts, we are also aware of the enormous burden chronic disease is putting on low- and middle- income countries around the world. Four out of five chronic diseases are in developing countries, which have fewer resources to invest in prevention and care management.

That’s why our department is reaching out to help these countries through programs like the Global Tobacco Surveillance System, which we developed in partnership with the Canadian Public health Association and the WHO. That system helps countries monitor tobacco use and then develop prevention and control programs to address it.

We’re also funding nine Centers of Excellence around the world in countries from Bangladesh to Argentina to South Africa to conduct research on reducing the burden of chronic disease. Each of these centers will be led by a research institution in the host country and their research will focus specifically on solutions tailored to their local or regional needs.

In all our efforts, at home and abroad, we recognize that poverty and poor health are closely linked. People who are poor or who live in underserved communities have less access to medical care and good nutrition, face greater environmental health hazards and are harder to reach through outreach and education efforts. So as we move forward, we understand that we must also address the social and economic factors that can put people at greater risk for chronic disease.

We will all be most successful at battling chronic disease if we battle it together. The more we study what’s worked and what hasn’t in other countries, the more successful we will be at turning the tide on chronic disease in our own countries. This Ministerial Conference is a great opportunity to share these ideas, and I look forward to hearing from the other panelists and to building even stronger partnerships in the months and years to come.

Thank you.