The health landscape in the Americas has changed. Cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases are the main cause of death in the Region.  Nearly 4 million lives are lost every year to these non-communicable diseases. Health systems are under immense pressure to cover costs of billions of dollars. In Mexico, for example, the direct cost of these obesity related non-communicable diseases to the health system was USD$3.3 billion in 2008. This amounts to as much as 0.3% of gross domestic product and 13% of total health expenditure in 2008. The outlook is bleak: costs are to rise to USD$6.1 billion by 2017.

The need to urgently address the growing economical and societal burden imposed by these diseases has shaped this week’s discussions at the World Economic Forum on Latin America 2012 in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Business and government leaders, including the Secretary of Health of Mexico, Salomón Chertorivski Woldenberg, were very clear: we will not be able take a solely curative approach to deal with the tremendous burden these diseases impose. In the words of Secretary Chertorviski, “Health needs to be attained in the streets, in the communities, in schools, in the workplaces”.

The solutions lie in effective prevention strategies involving public and private sectors to address the root causes of these diseases: unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, harmful use of alcohol and tobacco consumption. Collaboration was guiding the working session on health. High level executives, government and NGO participants emphasized the need to move into joint action. The shared objective is a framework that leverages the core competencies of each stakeholder and unlocks the power of multi-stakeholder collaborations.

The Forum is committed to developing such an action framework with the support and input of all interested partners, and reaching out to sectors beyond health. The open and constructive discussions in Puerto Vallarta were a step in the right direction.

Authors: Dr Eva Jane-Llopis, Head Health Programmes, World Economic Forum & Vanessa Candeias, Project Manager, Healthy Living, World Economic Forum

Photo: A nurse performs medical checks on an old woman during a health campaign in the shanty town of Ticlio Chico, an area recently affected by heavy rainfall, in Lima February 8, 2012. Peru’s Ministry of Health initiated a health campaign for the prevention of respiratory infections. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo