Takeaways from the 70th World Health Assembly in regard to NCDs (22-31 May 2017)

 The nine-day gathering of the World Health Assembly in Geneva – WHO’s main decision-making body – saw a host of decisions adopted by WHO member states as well as the election of former Ethiopian health minister Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as new Director General.

Delegates endorsed an updated set of policy options and interventions to assist countries in meeting the global targets to prevent and control noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). The new set includes 16 interventions known as “best buys”, originally outlined in WHO’s Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of NCDs, 2013-2020. Their effectiveness has been recently reexamined and reaffirmed by the WHO Secretariat. The main focus of the “best buys” lies on reducing people’s exposure to risk factors increasing the risk for developing NCDs through measures such as the taxation of tobacco and sugar-sweetened beverages, banning tobacco advertising and the reformulation of food products to reduce salt content. Emphasis is also placed on interventions improving the management of NCDs, including the provision of drug therapy for diabetes and hypertension, counselling for people who have suffered from a heart attack/stroke or are at high risk of a cardiovascular event and cervical cancer screening for women.


Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally and 70% of these cancer deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, putting great strain on already vulnerable health systems. The delegates therefore supported a set of measures to improve access to prevention, early diagnosis, prompt and accessible treatment as well as palliative care.

Delegates called on WHO to promote access for all people to affordable means of diagnosis and treatment. Additionally, delegates asked for the provision of technical guidance to countries on identifying and implementing priority cancer control interventions as well as the development of a world report on cancer, containing evidence-informed guidance for scaling-up cancer control (prepared jointly with the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer; the first edition is expected in 2019). Delegates committed to providing adequate resources for national cancer control plans and to strengthening health systems in order to ensure early diagnosis and quality treatment for all cancer patients.

Tobacco Control

Delegates adopted a decision requesting that the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) provides future World Health Assemblies with information on the outcome of their biennial meetings. The next session of the COP will be held from 1-6 October 2018.

The WHO FCTC is the first international treaty negotiated under WHO auspices and was adopted by the World Health Assembly on 21 May 2003. Entering into force on 27 February 2005, it has become one of the most widely embraced treaties in UN history and was developed to counter the globalization of the tobacco epidemic, representing a milestone for the promotion of public health and providing new legal dimensions for international health cooperation.


Childhood Obesity

Delegates welcomed a plan to implement recommendations made by the WHO Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity. The plan aims to reduce children’s exposure to unhealthy environments that facilitate the access and promotion of unhealthy foods and keep children from being physically active. The focus lies on preventing obesity throughout the life course, from the earliest years. The plan stresses the need to encourage infants and young children to choose healthy foods through supportive measures, including taxation, marketing and labelling as well as educational initiatives.

NCDAPA has been continuously advocating for the introduction of higher levies and plain packaging rules for all tobacco products as well as the need for concerted action in the fight against childhood obesity. NCDAPA embraces the decisions made by the 70th World Health Assembly and urges WHO member states to do their utmost to ensure the advancement of the global NCD agenda and the successful preparation of the third United Nations General Assembly High-level Meeting on the Prevention and Control of NCDs to be held in 2018.

by Moritz Laqua: Moritz has been working with NCDAPA since 2015. Before joining, he completed a traineeship in GIZ’s corporate development department, contributing to alliance building and strategic partnership management. At NCDAPA he works on external relations and policy, regularly providing articles and updates on political and legal developments within the field of NCDs. Moritz holds postgraduate degrees in Law and International Relations from the University of Munich and the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He is currently positioned in Southeast Asia.

Information on the outcomes of the 70th World Health Assembly: WHO Seventieth World Health Assembly update, 30 May 2017

On tobacco control and childhood obesity please also see recent NCDAPA articles:

Smoking prevalence and attributable disease burden: challenges for the Asia Pacific Region

Joint submission of WHO and WHO FCTC made public after tribunal strengthens tobacco control in Uruguay

World No Tobacco day 2016

Final report of the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity: Asia most affected by global epidemic