Non-communicable diseases are no longer largely limited to high-income countries and the elderly. The burden of non-communicable diseases is rising across all country income categories, in part because these diseases have been relatively overlooked on the global health agenda. Historically, communicable diseases have been prioritized in many countries as they were perceived to constitute the greatest disease burden, especially among vulnerable and poor populations, and strategies for prevention and treatment, which had been successful in high-income settings, were considered feasible and often affordable in low-income settings. This prioritization has reduced the communicable diseases burden globally but has left non-communicable diseases largely neglected. A new approach is urgently needed to tackle non-communicable diseases. Based on an analysis of potential features which may have underlain the different approaches to non-communicable diseases and communicable diseases until now, including acuity of disease, potential for control or cure, cost, infectiousness, blaming of individuals and logistical barriers, little ethical or rational justification can be found to support continued neglect of non-communicable diseases. Justice demands access to quality and affordable care for all. An equitable approach to non-communicable diseases is therefore strongly mandated on medical, ethical, economic, and public health grounds. Funding must not however be diverted away from communicable diseases, which continue to require attention—but concomitantly, funding for noncommunicable diseases must be increased. International and multi-sectoral action is required to accelerate progress towards true universal health coverage and towards achievement of all of the sustainable development goals, such that prevention and access to care for non-communicable disease can become a global reality.