Noncommunicable diseases (NCD) – mainly heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease and diabetes – kill nearly 30 000 people in the Western Pacific Region every day.

Four out of every five deaths in the Region are now due to noncommunicable diseases. NCDs are driven by risk factors – tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and harmful use of alcohol – all of which are highly preventable.

The poor are exposed to more risk factors and often do not have access to early detection and effective treatments. Many of these deaths are in young people. Their premature deaths deprive families of their loved ones and of income. Normally, an epidemic of this size would be on the front page of every newspaper. But this disease epidemic does not get that kind of attention. This needs to change. Epidemics that do not get noticed do not get stopped.

The United Nations General Assembly High Level Meeting on NCD Prevention and Control in September 2011 in New York has significantly increased the awareness of the global community on the health and economic threat that NCDs pose.

Heads of state from around the world called for an all-out effort to tackle NCD and to reduce their risk factors. We know what works and what is needed is to implement the actions.

The news media has an important role to play. That is why WHO Western Pacific Regional Office has prepared this Media Primer.

News media can help inform people of the actions they can take to protect themselves and their families. Accurate reporting on these diseases and the risk factors can also help to promote good public health responses.

Many cost effective things can be done to prevent NCD and reduce their impact. NCD need not – and must not – continue to languish in obscurity. I hope that you will join us in working to tackle this epidemic and that this Primer will be useful to you in generating interest – and action – on this topic.