Major and chronic diseases


Chronic diseases affect the sufferer over a long period of time and generally progress slowly. Some of them – cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes, mental illness – represent leading causes of mortality.

Tackling four major risk behaviours – smoking, alcohol abuse, unhealthy diet, sedentary lifestyle – can help prevent many chronic diseases. But to be effective, such efforts need to be based on targeted health promotion, prevention and early detection.

To efficiently address the challenge of chronic diseases, an integrated, horizontal approach is essential – involving all the relevant levels, from communities to policy makers.

Social and environmental determinants also play an important role in the development of chronic diseases, and there is a clear inequality in the burden of such conditions and in the access to prevention and control.

EU initiatives

The EU promotes a comprehensive approach to tackling the chronic disease burden in Europe:

In relation to cancer, the EU encourages cooperation by providing a partnership for a wide range of stakeholders across the EU.

EU action on HIV/AIDS – which, since the introduction of highly active retroviral therapy, can be considered a chronic condition – also helps address the chronic disease burden.

Coordination – EU & national governments

The reflection process on chronic diseases  brings together the Member States and the Commission to coordinate efforts to respond to the challenges of chronic diseases. 

UN declaration

In 2011 the UN General Assembly – with EU support – adopted a political declaration on prevention & control of non‑communicable diseases (NCDs). The declaration acknowledged that chronic diseases constitute a major challenge for development in the 21st century and requested WHO to lead and take global action.