Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) are one of the most critical health challenges facing the global community. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) report on NCDs, lifestyle diseases are by far, the leading cause of mortality in the world as compared to AIDS. NCDs represent over 60% of all deaths and the trend is expected to increase with time, as populations become increasingly urbanised and the risk factors caused by environment and lifestyle increase.

Significantly, NCDs such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, kidney diseases, amongst others are considered preventable because they are caused by modifiable risk factors. Chronic diseases of lifestyle (CDL) share similar risk factors as a result of exposure, over many decades, to unhealthy diets, smoking, lack of regular exercise, and possibly stress. The major risk factors of high blood pressure, tobacco addiction, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity result in various long-term disease processes, culminating in high mortality rates attributable to strokes, heart attacks, tobacco- and nutrition-induced cancers, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, renal failure, and many others.

The topic of NCDs and specifically the changing patterns of NCDs will be explored in August 2013 by delegates attending the InterAcademy Medical Panel (IAMP) General Assembly and International Conference hosted by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The IAMP is a network of the world’s medical academies and medical sections of academies of science and engineering committed to improving health world-wide. While there have been a number of international meetings to discuss various aspects of lifestyle diseases, there has not been any global scientific meeting organised by science academies on this theme. What distinguishes this IAMP meeting from the scientific meetings is the link between science and policy, and the goal of assembling scientific evidence with the intention of formulating advice for policy-makers. As a preventable group of diseases, a focus on NCDs provides an opportunity to raise the profile of such diseases amongst policy-makers and the public and to bring the best scientific evidence to bear on the problem.