NCDs

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.

In June 2011, the CSIS Global Health Policy Center asked bloggers around the world, Do you think it's possible to create a unified social movement for NCDs, akin to the movements that already exist for individual chronic diseases?  If so, why?  If not, what initiatives can we implement in the place of an effective social movement to move an NCD agenda forward? Dr. Jonathan D. Quick was one of our four finalists.

For three years, Lucy Sakala has counseled people seeking HIV tests at a District Hospital in Malawi. A year ago, she was diagnosed with uterine cancer. She has had chemotherapy and surgery, which are sometimes painful and tiring, but are extending her life.

During the counseling sessions, she sometimes tells her patients about her illness: “I tell them they should live positively. There are several conditions more serious than HIV. I tell them I have cancer. It’s difficult, but I live positively."

The day before she said this, she had journeyed seven hours to the nearest city to see her doctor. He told her he had no more chemotherapy and she must buy it in a pharmacy. The cost was roughly $180. Insurance would only pay half.  The remaining half is a month’s salary, which she didn’t have.

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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