The 36 members of the WHO Civil Society Working Group on NCDs commend the World Health Organization and Dr Tedros for his leadership as the world grapples with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. An empowered, well-resourced WHO is essential to lead governments, other stakeholders, and people through these trying times.
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated more than ever the need for resilient health systems, especially ones that are equipped to respond to the growing burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). NCDs and their risk factors are exerting a heavy toll on health systems around the world, draining scarce resources even though they are largely preventable. The current public health crisis illustrates that health promotion is essential both for health emergency preparedness and sustainability of health systems, as is universal health coverage that ensures access to essential services and care without incurring financial hardship. Both COVID-19 and NCDs are indiscriminate actors, disproportionately impacting the poorest and most vulnerable people in all countries.
Emerging evidence from the COVID-19 pandemic suggests that people living with NCDs and other chronic conditions - in particular hypertension and cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, respiratory diseases, obesity, and mental and neurological health conditions such as dementia - are at higher risk of severe illness or death from the virus. Yet, even in the midst of a public health emergency of international concern, companies that produce harmful products, such as tobacco, alcohol and sugar-sweetened beverages, continue to spread misinformation and deny the link between the harmful effects of their products and COVID-19 to protect their markets.