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Sebelius: Chronic Diseases a Growing Health Problem for Countries in Every Corner of the Globe
May 16, 2011

Department of Health and Human Services

U.S. Delegation Briefing on Non-Communicable Diseases

64th World Health Assembly

Palais des Nations, Salle IV

Monday, May 16, 2011

Remarks as prepared for deliver

Fellow health ministers and distinguished leaders, I’m honored to be with you today.

A few weeks ago, public health leaders from around the world gathered in Moscow for the 1st Global Ministerial Conference on Healthy Lifestyles and Non-Communicable Diseases.

I want to thank Deputy Minister Dr. Skvortsova and the Russian Ministry of Health and Social Development for their partnership and commitment to addressing these critical global health issues together.

At that conference, we heard about how chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, and stroke have emerged as a growing health problem for countries in every corner of the globe and at every stage in development. And the United States is no exception.

Today in the United States, chronic diseases account for 70 percent of deaths, limit the activities of tens of millions more Americans, and cost our economy billions 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.

In the United States, they account for seventy-five percent of our health care spending.

Healthy Choices

We also know that the burden of chronic disease is growing in large part because of our lifestyles – the choices we make about where we live, what we eat, and how we exercise.

So in the United States, we’ve embarked on an ambitious agenda to make it easier for Americans to make healthy choices.

For example, we’re putting more health information in people’s hands — from requiring food manufacturers to put the amount of artificial trans fat on their products’ labels to adding new graphic warning labels for tobacco products.

And we’re working with communities across America to support proven strategies for promoting healthy lifestyles – like giving kids more opportunities to exercise and eat healthy in school and bringing supermarkets to underserved neighborhoods so residents can get fresh fruits and vegetables.

But we also know that no matter how successful our prevention and wellness efforts are, we will not eliminate chronic disease overnight.

So we are also helping people get the best care possible so their conditions don’t become more serious.

Health Care Reform

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.

We’re training more primary care providers who play such a central role in care coordination. And we’re expanding access to care, especially preventive care.

Driving all of these efforts is a commitment to steadily shifting the focus of our health care system from waiting for people to become acutely ill, to giving them access to care earlier, in a way that is more cost-effective and more health-effective.

America is Not Alone

We also know that the United States is not alone in facing these challenges, and that they can be especially devastating for developing countries. That is why we’re here today.

Four out of five people with chronic diseases live in developing countries with fewer resources to invest in prevention and care management.

Many of these countries are still combating significant rates of infectious diseases too.

Sharing Our Experiences

The Declaration that came out of our Moscow discussions recognized the urgency of these challenges and made it clear that we will all be most successful if we join the fight together.

Low-cost, effective interventions to control tobacco use, support healthy diets and promote exercise can save millions of lives.

We must put our resources where they will have a lasting and sustainable impact, based on evidence and risk — while leveraging the skills and experience of our partners outside government.

We also have to look beyond any one disease, building systems that allow us to care for patients who may suffer from multiple interrelated conditions.

And we recognize that the health sector cannot tackle these problems alone – transportation, education, agriculture, and housing all play a role.

Challenges like these may seem insurmountable at times. And we are only just beginning to address them as a global community.

But we can learn from our work in other areas.

A decade ago, many people thought that HIV/AIDS couldn’t be managed in communities with few resources, but a tremendous global commitment and collaboration has proven that it can.

Today, we can draw on many strong examples where HIV/AIDS is being managed successfully as a chronic disease.

As we continue to work to improve health care in our countries, we will be most successful if we continue to learn from each other. I am glad we have this opportunity to speak today and I look forward to our continued partnership.

Now, I would like to turn the discussion over to my colleagues.

First, Dr. Howard Koh, Assistant Secretary for Health, will discuss our prevention agenda targeting major chronic disease risk factors such as tobacco use.

Then Dr. Regina Benjamin, our Surgeon General, will share lessons learned from our efforts to build healthier communities.

We then invite you to take part in the discussion, which will be moderated by Dr. Nils Daulaire, our Representative to the WHO Executive Board and Director of the Office of Global Health Affairs.

Thank you.