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This year, the United Nations General Assembly will convene the third UN High-Level Meeting (UN HLM) on NCDs. NCDs are one of just five global health issues that have been the subject of dedicated UN HLMs, together with HIV/AIDS, AMR, Ebola, and TB. This reflects the magnitude of the challenge, and the threat posed by NCDs worldwide, which requires global dialogue at the highest political level, as well as international cooperation and urgent action.

The first UN HLM on NCDs was in 2011, where Member States unanimously adopted the UN Political Declaration on NCDs that contains 22 action-oriented commitments for the NCD response. The second took place in July 2014, where governments adopted an Outcome Document that included four time-bound national policy commitments for 2015 and 2016 in order to galvanise action and measure progress at the national level.

Now, the third UN HLM on NCDs will allow for a critical review of progress achieved. In addition to the 2014 national time bound commitments, there are also the NCD targets in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the WHO Global NCD Action Plan 2013-2020 and WHO 2025 global NCD targets and indicators.

In the broader context of the 2018 UN HLM, there are key opportunities for synergistic action. These include the elevation of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) as a global priority, the growing recognition of the need to address social and commercial determinants of health, and the widespread consensus around a minimum package of cost-effective solutions for NCDs with high returns on investment (known as ‘WHO Best Buys’).

Despite global commitments and promising opportunities, current trends indicate that the global NCD targets will largely go unmet – progress as a whole has been insufficient and uneven – and many low- and middle-income countries are struggling to move from commitment to action. Less than half of all countries have national NCD plans and targets, which are the foundational building blocks of a national response, or have implemented prominent Best Buys such as effective tobacco taxes.

The challenges and opportunities surrounding the 2018 UN HLM on NCDs provide an even stronger mandate for high-level political action. The UN HLM will bring together Heads of State and Government, civil society, people living with NCDs, private sector and academia, and will result in an Outcome Document that will guide the next phase of the political response to NCDs.

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