Turning the Tide on NCDs at the 71st World Health Assembly

Why tackling non-communicable diseases in adolescence is so important: our event at the World Health Assembly

On 22nd May we were excited to welcome policy makers, civil society, research experts and journalists to our event at the World Health Assembly – Turning the Tide on NCDs: Why we need to focus on youth.

The discussion focused around two important pieces of research commissioned by the Young Health Programme, which highlight how critical it is for the world health community to focus on adolescence if we are to stem the rising global death toll from non-communicable diseases.

The first was led by Rachel Nugent, Vice President for NCDs at RTI International. Targeting the major risk factors that young people are exposed to during their teenage years is an efficient way to reduce the incidence of NCDs later in life. Yet just 2% of global health financing is spent on preventing and managing NCDs, and that money is mainly focused on treating the diseases once they are diagnosed in adulthood.

The statistics in her presentation spoke for themselves:

  • Two-thirds of premature NCD deaths in adults are associated with childhood conditions or behaviors initiated in youth – such as smoking or obesity
  • There is a 67% probability of long-term smoking abstinence after quitting for 1-year during youth
  • 70% of obese adolescents continue to be obese as adults, but people that are fit in their 20s are more likely to sustain their fitness throughout adulthood

The second research project, presented in its early stages by Professor Majid Ezzati, highlighted how Imperial College’s work on blood pressure could also add to the argument for action to prevent NCDs in adolescence. Their research – the largest collection of blood pressure data in the world – showed that there was just as much variation in adolescent blood pressure as in that of adults. The College is going on to analyse further the potential benefits of preventing high blood pressure early in life.

Finally, Danor Ajwang, the manager of Plan International’s NCD programme in Kenya, brought home some of the work going on with young people on the ground.  He started by sharing a video message from Sakina, a peer educator who works with youth in Kibera, Kenya. 



Danor adds:

When I meet young people living with NCDs, it reminds me that we are not just talking about statistics but real people. With support from AstraZeneca, the Young Health Programme in Kenya works with young people in Kibera to raise awareness among their peers on NCD risk behaviours and trains youth advocates to influence policies as well as budgetary allocation on prevention and management of NCDs. Globally, many governments have not fully realized how effective young people can be in addressing NCD risk behaviours, access to treatment and influencing policy.

The 140 people in the room – and many interested others – are now waiting for an expanded version of the research to be published in early July. And in the meantime, you can learn more about the Youth Health Programme’s work in Kenya here.


For more information please read the following resources:

For more information on the panellists, please follow the links below:





  • Sakina Abdul, Lead Peer Educator, Young Health Programme Kenya
  • Danor Ajwang, Programme Manager, Young Health Programme Kenya
  • Professor Majid Ezzati Professor of Global Environmental Health and Director of WHO Collaborating Centre on NCD Surveillance and Epidemiology, Imperial College London
  • Mychelle Farmer, Chair of NCD Child and Ambassador-at-Large of International Association of Adolescent Health
  • Dr. Brett P. Giroir, Assistant Secretary for Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • Dr Rachel Nugent Vice President, Non-communicable Diseases, RTI International
  • Joris Silon, Asia Area Vice President, Astra Zeneca