Organisation Internationale de Droit du Développement

Spotlight on NCDs at the UN: The intersection of health, gender and law

“The rule of law is a crucial part of the response to non-communicable diseases (NCDs),” IDLO’s Director-General, Irene Khan, told assembled Heads of State and Government in New York on the occasion of the 73rd United Nations General Assembly. “Yet, law is not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind. That is understandable. For many years, diseases like cancer, asthma, diabetes and heart disease were viewed only through the lens of public health. Now that there is more data, research and information on non-communicable diseases, they are being rightly seen as a multi-dimensional challenge that requires a multi-dimensional response,” she added.

Director-General Khan was speaking at a roundtable on September 27, during the high-level week of the annual UN General Assembly. Hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Russian Federation, the event explored how interagency collaboration can achieve NCD-related targets for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Specifically, the event highlighted how the UN Interagency Task Force on NCDs Prevention and Control (UNIATF), Member States and other development partners are responding to calls to scale up the global response to the NCD epidemic.

IDLO is a founding member of the UNIATF, and has an agreement with WHO to collaborate on healthy diets, physical activity and law.

Non-communicable diseases kill 15 million people ‘prematurely’ a year, and over 85 per cent of these early deaths occur in low and middle-income countries. Tobacco, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diets and lack of physical activity increase the risk of NCDs. Cardiovascular and chronic lung diseases, cancer and diabetes are now the leading global causes of death, yet legal frameworks and the capacity to respond are weak in many countries.

The 2030 Agenda has recognized the global impact of the NCDs epidemic through SDG 3 to “ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages”, with a distinct target referencing NCDs.

And, the intersection of SDG 3 and other areas of the Agenda is being increasingly established.

“Inherent gender bias within many health systems can obstruct equitable access to both prevention and treatment services for NCDs,” Director-General Khan told the UN. “Gender-based inequalities in education, incomes and employment can also limit the ability of women and girls to protect their health.”

As part of the solution, human rights-based approaches to public health law reform can improve the legal response health challenges, increase social acceptability of policy options and strengthen government commitments.

To meaningfully address the challenge of NCDs, IDLO, in collaboration with WHO and Canada’s International Development Research Centre, is rolling out a 3-year joint initiative with support from the OPEC Fund for International Development and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

The global project aims to build national legal capacity to develop and implement successful policies to fight NCDs. With an initial focus on East Africa and South Asia, the project will foster communities of lawyers, researchers, civil society, policy-makers and community representatives at the national and international levels. Alongside legal solutions to reduce risk, create health-promoting environments and strengthen health systems, the initiative will also seek to build public support for healthy diets and physical activity.

“The demand for legal capacity at the national level is enormous. The resources are limited. There is an urgent need for the international community to step up its efforts to fill the unmet needs for legal capacity and technical assistance on NCDs,” Director-General Khan continued.

“As the only intergovernmental organization exclusively devoted to the rule of law, IDLO is ready to do its part in the fight against NCDs.”

Statement of Director General Khan to the Friends of the UN NCD Task Force Meeting, 27 September, 2018


Further information:

IDLO has been delivering technical and financial support for rights-based approaches to public health challenges, including NCDs, since 2009. IDLO’s Strategy 2020 is inspired by the vision of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its goals of advancing access to justice, combatting inequalities and promoting social inclusion. It identifies Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 as a cross-cutting goal necessary for the achievement of other SDGs, including SDG2 – improved nutrition, SDG3 – ensuring healthy lives and the promotion of well-being for all at all ages - and other health-related goals.