Last week, there was much buzz about Pope Francis visiting the U.S. One of the stops he made was to address the United Nations (UN) General Assembly of heads of state, diplomats, and other country representatives. His visit came on Day 1 of a summit marking the adoption of goals agreed to by UN member states intended to improve prosperity and wellbeing for all people around the world. The agreement builds on a set of goals set back in 2000 and sets a new shared agenda for the year 2030.
Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including cancer, were called out among the targets countries should be working towards. Specifically, the goals call for a one-third reduction in premature mortality from NCDs through prevention and treatment. This marks the first time NCDs were featured on an international agenda of this magnitude, a big deal for the community. Thus, the mood last week in New York was quite celebratory. Following our collective advocacy for and following a high-level meeting on NCDs in 2011, we have come to a point where NCD priorities are seen on par with other global concerns.
The inclusion is significant. Now, cancer and other NCDs stand a better chance of being acknowledged by policymakers or program leaders keen to advance other health priorities and, thus, integrated into their commitments and initiatives. In fact, multiple events around this year’s summit spoke to the emerging burden of NCDs and its impact on the broader global health agenda. And with NCDs being a cross-cutting issue related to agriculture (e.g. food we grow), infrastructure (e.g. roads or parks we build), trade (e.g. drugs or technology we send or receive), and a host of other sectors beyond health, there is a tremendous opportunity to link with leaders and organizations working in these areas. In fact, the new global goals encourage coordination or collaboration and have been designed to facilitate such overlap.
Yet another aspect of these global goals different from their iteration in 2000 is the fact that everyone is invited to be a part of the solution. UN officials recruited advocates and champions to spread the word about this new agenda and help us all understand how they relate to our everyday lives as well as what role we can have in their success. From cancer to NCDs to general health and wellbeing, we are in this together. We have a collective responsibility to ensure goals have global reach and meaningful results.
For several years, the global cancer and NCD communities have been working toward this recognition and mandate. Now that we have these, the real work begins, in service of people affected worldwide.