Do Not Neglect Our Future: Include Children In All NCD Policies

The NCD Alliance has called for children and adolescents not to be overlooked in the final outcomes document and subsequent implementation and follow-up plan on non-communicable diseases (NCDs). “Children and adolescents are our future. They are a cornerstone in the prevention of NCDs. However, when it comes to addressing NCDs, children are too frequently left off the policy agenda,” said Dr. Kate Armstrong, Chair of the NCD Alliance Child-Focused Working Group and President of UNDPI/NGO associated non-profit CLAN (Caring and Living As Neighbours). “We therefore call on all stakeholders – including UN member states, UN-related agencies such as UNICEF, the private sector and civil society – to protect and promote the rights of children to the highest attainable standard of health.”

The NCD Alliance Child-Focused Working Group, which represents more than 23 non- governmental and civil society institutions, actively advocates for the inclusion of children in the discourse and outcomes of the UN Summit on NCDs in September 2011. It has recently written and launched a policy document 'A Focus  on Children and Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs)’ which covers the major NCDs (diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and chronic respiratory diseases). This 'position paper' shows that sustainable change is possible and that it is imperative to work together to protect the rights of the world’s children. It calls upon the representatives of UN Member States and all others participating in the UN Summit on NCDs, being held in New York in September 2011, to uphold their international commitment to the rights of the child and guarantee that the ‘best interests of the child’ is a primary consideration in policy formulations related to NCD in keeping with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989, Article 3(1).

This policy document explains the connections between children/adolescents and NCDs.

Unfortunately, there is a common misconception that NCDs do not affect children, but are diseases of adulthood only. The truth is that NCDs have an enormous impact on the health of children. Cancer, diabetes (both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes), chronic respiratory diseases (such as asthma), obesity, congenital and acquired heart disease and many endemic NCDs all affect children and/or start in childhood. Children and young people are often targeted by companies advertising fast food, tobacco or alcohol, and many grow up today in environments that are not conducive to them adopting healthy lifestyles, making them more prone to these diseases.

Children suffer from a wide range of NCDs. Some are triggered in childhood by a complex interaction between the child’s body and the surrounding environment, nutritional and/or other factors, while some conditions are congenital: each year an estimated 8 million children (6% of all births worldwide) are born with a serious genetic abnormality, and heart defects alone contribute about one-third to one-quarter of all birth defects. NCDs are a major cause of preventable mortality, morbidity and disability amongst children in Low- and Middle-Income Countries. Many affected children die prematurely because of late diagnosis and/or lack of access to appropriate treatment; those fortunate to survive often experience hardship while living with a chronic health condition that is not optimally managed. The secondary impacts of a growing trend of NCDs upon children are no less devastating. The economic and emotional burden upon a child growing up with a parent with a chronic condition can be significant, especially in the absence of necessary support.

Keeping in mind, that children’s issues are an integral part of the global NCD discourse, the child focused working group of NCD Alliance has proposed five key recommendations for action by UN member states and international agencies for the UN Summit on NCDs, which insist upon---

(i) Leadership—this envisages child focused efforts to address social determinants of health relevant to NCDs; establishment of funding mechanisms to support collaborative action to prevent, diagnose, and treat NCDs in children; empowerment of children/ youth to have a voice in decision making that affects them; and ensuring that children diagnosed with any NCD are able to live full and productive lives, free from stigma and shame.

 (ii) Prevention—this would ensure that all national policies shape social determinants (like promoting maternal and child health, healthy diets, physical activity, reduction of tobacco and alcohol use and air pollution) linked to NCDs, so as to promote good health of families and children; cost effective methods of prevention of NCDs are integrated with pediatric primary care; concentration on child centric efforts to prevent smoking and exposure to second hand smoke with a view to implement the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in the broader sense.

(iii) Diagnostics and Treatment—to strengthen health systems to provide child centric care by delivering cost effective essential drugs to all children; invest in training of health professionals specifically to deal with NCDs in children and also to prevent maternal and child deaths by prioritizing having a skilled attendant at every birth; and promote community based actions to support children living with NCDs.

(iv)  International Cooperation—increase funding for child specific actions within global NCD agendas; encourage knowledge sharing with a view to bring about changes that would improve the lives of children; and ensure appropriate allocation of resources b y UN agencies with a primary mission that includes children.

(v) Monitoring, reporting, research and accountability--- urgent focus on child-specific health data and registers relating to NCDs; identify child specific targets and reporting systems to monitor progress on child specific actions; and to share updates regularly on these commitments to children in child focused forums.

Children are not only affected by all four key NCDs, but are also the cornerstone to a life time approach to primary prevention and risk factor management. It is imperative that children’s issues become an integral part of the global efforts to control NCDs. A predominant focus on adults will systematically neglect important opportunities to reduce NCD risk factors from the earlier stages of childhood. By contrast, a focus on children will promote generational and population-based change, and empower a pro-active approach to the primary, secondary and tertiary prevention of NCDs.

In the words of Ban Ki-Moon, United Nations Secretary-General, “We now have an opportunity to achieve real, lasting progress – because global leaders increasingly recognize that the health of women and children is the key to progress on all development goals.”


Published in:
Citizen News Service (CNS), India/Thailand
Wikio News, Africa
Elites TV News, California, USA