September 27, 2018
Prevention and Control of Non-communicable diseases

Statement of H.E. Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher
Secretary for Relations with States, Head of the Delegation of the Holy See to the
Seventy-third Session of the United Nations General Assembly

High-level Meeting entitled
“Scaling up multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral responses
for the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases
in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”

New York, 27 September 2018


Madam President,

The Holy See welcomes the attention given to the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases in order to reduce premature mortality and improve the quality of life.

In this effort, while realizing the importance of strengthening health systems, the Holy See would like to underline the need to increase the political commitment and involvement of a broad range of actors, including women as change-agents in families and communities, in prevention initiatives and above all in the encouragement of healthy lifestyles. As it is known, non-communicable diseases are linked to four main risk factors, namely, tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity. That is how these non-communicable diseases can paradoxically end up becoming communicable, through imitation of unhealthy lifestyles and behavior, especially by the young and the impressionable. This underscores the importance of education toward healthy lifestyles as a component of health education, alongside addressing the social determinants of health.

In this regard, the WHO Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases 2013-2020 recognizes the important role of faith-based organizations,[1] which often assume significant responsibility for the burden of health care delivery, most especially to the poorest sectors of the population and to those living in rural areas. Too often, however, these faith-based service providers are not allowed a "place at the table" during the formulation of health care plans on national or local levels. They are also deprived of an equitable share in the resources, both from the national and local budgets, as well as from international donors. Such funding is essential to facilitating the maintenance of ongoing health systems; the training, recruitment and retention of professional staff; as well as the scaling up necessary to address the ever-increasing burden of non-communicable diseases that disproportionately affect the poorest sectors of society.

Madam President,

Pope Francis has reminded us of “our responsibility to one another and to all living creatures.”[2]  Human health, in fact, needs to be considered alongside our ability to preserve and protect the natural environment; air pollution, for example, is a critical risk factor for non-communicable diseases. At the same time, all human beings must be taken into consideration, especially those experiencing hardships that endanger their health and access to adequate care.

The quantitative tracking of aid flows and the multiplication of global health initiatives, useful as these things are, on their own do not provide an adequate response to non-communicable diseases and do not assure universal basic health coverage. Access to primary health care and affordable life-saving drugs is vital to improving global health and to fostering a shared globalized response to basic needs. In an increasingly interdependent world, sickness and unhealthy lifestyles cross boundaries, and therefore greater global cooperation is not only a practical necessity but, more importantly, an ethical imperative of solidarity.

We must be guided, however, by the best health care principles and protocols, including the tradition that respects and promotes the right to life from conception until natural death for all regardless of race, disability, nationality, religion, sex and socio-economic status. The failure to place the promotion of life at the center of health care decisions may lead to a society in which an individual’s right to basic health care and indeed to life itself is limited by the ability to pay, by the perceived quality of life or by other subjective decisions that sacrifice life and health to the short-term social, economic or political advantage of others.

Thinking of the future thus means setting out on a twofold path. The first is anchored in an open interdisciplinary approach that engages experts and institutions and fosters a reciprocal exchange of knowledge. The second is comprised of concrete actions on behalf of those who suffer. Both these directions require a convergence of efforts, ideas and communities: scientists and physicians, patients, families, ethicists, cultural and religious leaders, philanthropists, and representatives of governments and business.

Madam President,

My Delegation is particularly happy that this process is already underway, and sees the present High-level Meeting as a significant opportunity to bring together the various strands that will lead to such a convergence.

Thank you, Madam President.

1. World Health Organization, document WHA66/2013/REC/1, para 30(j).
2. Pope Francis, Address to Participants at the International Conference organized by the Pontifical Council for Culture on Regenerative Medicine, 28 April 2018.