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Speech by The Minister for Development Cooperation of Denmark at The International Conference on The Emerging of Chronic Diseases in Developing Countries Copenhagen 15-16 april 2010

Speech by Søren Pind, Minister for Development Cooperation of Denmark

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all, a warm welcome to this conference in Copenhagen. I am very encouraged by the presence of so many partners and experts in the field of chronic diseases. I am delighted to welcome Health Ministers from Mozambique and Uganda who have travelled quite a distance to participate and voice their input to the discussions. And I would like to extend a very warm welcome to Mr. Robert Kamau from Kenya who is diagnosed with diabetes and will tell us about the challenges of living with a chronic disease in an urban slum area.

Springtime marks a new beginning – and so does this conference. With this conference we aim to strengthen focus on the burden of chronic diseases in developing countries; to look at ways to accommodate the pressure on the health systems due to a growing number of people with chronic diseases; to discuss the link between chronic diseases and gender issues.
For a long time, chronic diseases have been treated as a symptom of high standards of living. As donor countries we have been worried about the increase of chronic diseases in our own countries, but we have not paid much attention to chronic diseases in developing countries.

Today we know, unfortunately, that chronic diseases are a global challenge. Demographic ageing, rapid urbanization and the globalization of unhealthy lifestyles are universal trends.

We also know that developing countries and their people are much more vulnerable to the consequences. They still struggle with the fight against HIV/AIDS, malaria and other infectious diseases. This will remain the major challenge for a number of years. But they also struggle with weak health systems that are overburdened and with a lack of health staff.

Ladies and gentlemen,

A draft of a new strategy for Denmark’s development cooperation has been presented for public hearing. It states that our development policy is based on the fundamental concept that all human beings are born free and equal with inalienable rights. It further emphasizes the importance of economic growth as a key to poverty reduction. Without political and economic freedom people are kept in poverty.

Governments should generate conditions in which everyone can be as healthy as possible. Freedom from disease is one of the most fundamental determinants of health. It is important for economic and social progress for families as well as for societies. Only by ensuring the opportunities for as many as possible to participate in economic growth can we help people to cross the barriers of poverty.

What strikes me is that chronic diseases are now among the most significant causes of illness and death among working-age populations in developing countries according to the World Bank. Such premature deaths and disabilities will of course influence the possibilities of economic growth in a society. Furthermore, for the families affected, medical expenses for long-term treatment may tip them into poverty.
Another aspect is the gender dimension. We know by experience that women are hit harder than men when health systems are not geared to provide sufficient services. The high maternal mortality rate in developing countries is a sad example of this. The current gender inequalities regarding access to medical treatment, power over finances and decision making influence women’s access to chronic disease services. Women’s position in society as well as lack of secured rights simply limit their possibility to act. But women are also agents of change. As primary caretakers in the family they play an important role in promoting a healthy lifestyle, especially for their children.
So how should we act towards these growing health challenges?

Firstly, 80 percent of the chronic diseases can be prevented. Low-cost interventions to reduce tobacco use, promote healthy diet and physical activity and eliminate harmful use of alcohol can prevent many premature deaths and disabilities. Such preventive measures should therefore be included in national health priorities.
Secondly, health systems need to be strengthened in order to cope with the demands and costs of chronic care. The goal is to establish health systems that can provide primary health care for all. Denmark supports strengthening of health systems in several African countries through budget support and capacity building at local and national level. We align our support with national health plans. Therefore, if prevention and treatment of chronic diseases are to be promoted, it needs to be part of the national health priorities.
Thirdly, we really need to make a strong push to eliminate the gender inequities in health. To my mind there is no reason - and no excuse - for the lack of equal access to health between women and men. There is a moral side to it, but also an economic: it simply pays off to improve women’s ability to participate fully in the economic growth of their societies. Access to health is a precondition for this. At the same time we should not forget women’s role as caretakers and agents of change for healthy lifestyles in the family. Women’s empowerment is a key priority for Denmark in all our development work. We remain fully committed to MDG3 as well as to the other MDGs.

Ladies and gentlemen, with this conference we aim to discuss how to tackle the emerging burden of chronic diseases in developing countries. There will be voices from all parts of society and presentation of the newest knowledge. The idea is to come up with ways and means that will improve the life of millions of people. This is a big task. Does it sound like a too big task? I hope not.

Thank you for your attention.