non-communicable diseases

{Photo credit: Warren Zelman.}Photo credit: Warren Zelman.

This post originally appeared on Devex.

Cancer is gaining ground in the developing world.

People in poor countries are more likely to die from cancer, and die far younger, than people in rich countries. Today, on World Cancer Day, this cancer divide continues to worsen. Even as misconceptions have receded, the reality hasn’t.

There’s been political progress at the global level, including the 2011 U.N. resolution on noncommunicable diseases like cancer. Yet the traditional mode of global assistance for developing countries — aid funding — hasn’t been forthcoming. Without it, the NCD agenda has gained little traction in those countries.

Perhaps the answer isn’t countries at all.

{Photo credit: Mark Tuschman.}Photo credit: Mark Tuschman.

Universal health coverage (UHC) and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are high priorities in global health—just look at the proposed post-2015 development goals. The increasing burden of NCDs is widely recognised, and a growing list of countries have joined the UHC movement. But what’s less widely understood is why a UHC approach is necessary for an effective NCD response.

{Photo credit: MSH}Photo credit: MSH

Experts in global health and chronic diseases, policymakers, patient groups, and more, are assembling in Johannesburg, South Africa, for the second one-day event hosted by The Economist on "New Approaches to Non-Communicable Diseases" July 16. Following on a successful October 2012 meeting in Geneva, this year's theme is "Accelerating Progress in Prevention and Control." Moderated by The Economist Group editors, the discussions will focus on the rise in chronic diseases in low- and middle-income countries and on developing solutions together through innovative cross-sector partnerships. 

Only one in twenty cancer patients in Africa receives needed chemotherapy. This is unacceptable. Much needs to be done, much can be done, and much must be done to close the cancer divide.

It was an exciting and insightful week of discussions at this month’s Global Health Council meeting on how to address the drastically growing burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as cancers, diabetes, and heart and lung disease, in advance of the UN High Level Summit on NCDs in September. Speakers made a strong case for including NCDs as a priority on the global health agenda. The intertwining of these diseases with communicable diseases such as HIV, TB and malaria are striking. Julio Frenk, MD, MPH, Dean of the Harvard School of Public Health described the commonalities:

The theme of this year’s Global Health Council annual conference was Securing a Healthier Future in a Changing World. As populations are shifting, so are their health priorities. Increasing urbanization has led to more people living in and around cities, creating a series of problems that are new to public health professionals. Nutritional challenges, the need for improved water and sanitation infrastructure, and addressing the issue of unregulated health care providers are all problems facing governments, ministries, NGOs, donors, and populations. In addition, non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular conditions, and mental illness, are adding a new strain to many already resource constrained health systems. Of course, immunization, malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea, and maternal death are all still very serious challenges in many of these systems and remain key priorities.

Today, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) released a new video: “Spotlighting the NCD Problem.” This video explains the challenge the world is facing with non-communicable diseases. According to the World Health Organization, about 36 million people die each year due to NCDs, and a quarter of NCD deaths are of people aged under 60; 9 in 10 of these people are from developing countries.

MSH President and CEO Jonathan D. Quick, MD, MPH, recently called on UN member states to take a heath systems strengthening approach to NCDs.

The Health Minister’s Conference for member countries of The East, Central and Southern Africa Health Community (ECSA HC) was opened by the Minister of Health, Zimbabwe in Harare on October 25. The theme, "Moving from Knowledge to Action: Harnessing Evidence to Transform Healthcare" is very relevant to the mission of Management Sciences for Health (MSH).

I’ll highlight two sessions from the first day that support the evolving global health field and the work of MSH.

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