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UN Highlights Threat of Non-Communicable Diseases

  • Mariama Diallo

Heads of state and government representatives assembled at the United Nations this week to address the emerging threat of non-communicable diseases worldwide. One of those so-called "NCDs" is cancer. For those whose lives have already been affected somehow by this deadly disease, the attention was long overdue.

The United Nations says this is a critical moment - and a lack of action on non communicable diseases, or "NCDs," could pose a threat to global development

"You have the power to make sure that your development is moving on a good path. We must act now with a sense of urgency," noted World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan.

NCDs include diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular and chronic respiratory diseases. For John Seffrin, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society, this week was historic.

"There are other issues going on out there but the one that stole the show is the interest to the NCDs," said Seffrin. "Two, it's the recognition that if we don't intervene, that' ll be calamitous. The cumulative economic output loss over the next few years could be as much as $47 trillion."

A huge amount, comprising millions of individual losses. Those stories can be found in all countries, told by people from all walks of life. Seffrin, for example, lost his grandmother to colon cancer and his mother to leukemia. His wife is also a breast cancer survivor.

"She is coming onto her 7th anniversary. Her seventh new birthday. She will never die of that breast cancer because it was detected early," said Seffrin.

Vera Golik came to New York from Brazil. This week was an opportunity for her to showcase a project dear to her heart. An exhibition of her husband's photographs of breast cancer survivors illustrates how important the human touch is in dealing with all phases of cancer. Her inspiration?

"I received a call my sister and my brother the same week had cancer. My brother had lymphoma and my sister had breast cancer. [A] few months later, my mother had cancer too," said Golik.

Although it was devastating, she says the one thing that helped them get through the ordeal was support from friends and family.

"Give a hug, a phone call, stay beside them," added Golik. "They know we are together in this fight and they will win. The winning is not dying, because we all going to die some day. It's how we pass this as a warrior."

Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France seven times, more than any other cyclist. But his most important victory was against testicular cancer. After all these years, he says the most important thing for cancer survivors like him is to tell their stories.

"What we are asking people to do on a daily basis through social media or through our own outreaches, share your story, be proud of that and represent that movement of people we are all part of 28 million people," said Armstrong.

Armstrong's cancer support network, livestrong.org, has been working to improve the lives of those affected by the disease. And as this video shows, other non-communicable diseases are taking a toll.

A total of 36 million people died from NCDs in 2008 - 200,000 from cancer in Brazil; in Germany, about 25,000 from diabetes; in China, 3.2 million from cardiovascular diseases; 108,000 Ethiopians from chronic respiratory disease and the list goes on.

The U.N. declaration on chronic diseases sets a new agenda in the fight to reduce the numbers.

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