UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Billionaire philanthropist and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has a new job — as global ambassador for the U.N. health agency with a mandate to help reduce deaths from prevalent diseases, traffic accidents, tobacco, alcohol and obesity.
World Health Organization Director General Margaret Chan cited Bloomberg's longtime support for its efforts to control smoking and tobacco use, improve road safety and prevent drowning in announcing Wednesday that he will be the agency's Global Ambassador for Non-communicable Diseases.
She said Bloomberg will help mobilize national and local political leaders, donors and the private sector to prevent and treat non-communicable diseases which are experiencing a growing epidemic and to reduce injuries from road traffic crashes, burns, falls and drowning.
According to WHO, non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart and lung disease and injuries are responsible for 43 million deaths each year. They represent almost 80 percent of all deaths worldwide and are the leading cause of premature death in developing countries.
Yet, despite their prevalence, non-communicable diseases currently account for only 2 percent of all health funding, the agency said.
Road traffic crashes account for a further 1.25 million deaths each year and are the leading cause of death among young people, aged 15-29 year, WHO said.
Chan said she is "absolutely delighted" that Bloomberg will be a WHO ambassador, calling him "a valued partner" who will help strengthen the agency's response to the major public health challenges posed by non-communicable diseases and injuries.
Bloomberg said he is "honored ... and excited about the possibilities that are within our reach."
"Cities and countries around the world are making great progress reducing preventable, premature deaths, and by replicating the most effective measures on a global scale, we can save many millions of lives," he said.
WHO said effective strategies to prevent non-communicable diseases include increasing the tax and price of tobacco and alcohol, enforcing smoke-free environments, promoting healthy affordable diets, and discouraging the eating of foods that are high in sugar, salt and fat.
Proven actions to prevent the most common injuries include wearing seat belts and helmets, enforcing speed limits, drink-driving legislation, enforcing laws on smoke alarms and hot water temperatures, and covering water hazards and fencing pools, WHO said.
Bloomberg took steps to try to improve the health of New Yorkers as mayor including raising cigarette prices, banning trans fats and attempting unsuccessfully to do the same for large sodas. His philanthropic investments in public health include a $100 million commitment to eradicate polio, a $600 million initiative to reduce global tobacco use, and programs to tackle obesity, road safety, maternal health, and drowning, WHO said.
The agency said Bloomberg's position as WHO Global Ambassador is for an initial period of two years and is on a purely honorary basis. In January 2014, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Bloomberg as his first Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, a position he still holds.