It Is Necessary To Communicate about Non-Communicable Diseases

(Based on the speech of the UN Deputy Secretary-General, at the Media Forum on Non Communicable Diseases , in New York on 20.6.2011)
The UN Deputy Secretary-General, Asha-Rose Migiro, while speaking at a media forum on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), in New York, reiterated the commitment of the United Nations to scale up efforts to fight the menace of NCDs, while being aware of the potential road blocks. She agreed that, unlike virus triggered diseases, non-communicable diseases were linked directly to individual habits like tobacco consumption, unhealthy eating and a sedentary life style. Hence there should be a concerted campaign to promote exercise, reduce excessive consumption of alcohol and cut the use of tobacco products.

All of us, in the public as well as private sector, can work together to change individual perceptions regarding health and disease. Unhealthy lifestyles can no longer remain a matter of individual choice, as they impact the physical / mental and economic well being of society as a whole.

“Governments can take decisions that reward and encourage healthy habits, raise the financial cost of unhealthy habits, and at the same time strengthen public health care systems for people with non-communicable diseases. The private sector will have to ensure that while they pursue profits, they also protect health. They should adjust the formulas of their foods to include better ingredients and ban those that are known to be harmful, like transfats. They can also act responsibly when marketing products to children.”

She said that Cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, cancer and diabetes are no longer ‘diseases of affluence’. Poor countries suffer 80 per cent of the deaths caused by non-communicable diseases. Poor mothers who lack good nutrition in pregnancy are more likely to give birth to babies vulnerable to non-communicable diseases later in life.

Similarly smoking rates are highest among men in lower-middle-income countries. These countries also suffer two thirds of all cancer deaths. Africa has the highest rate of people living with raised blood pressure. A general lack of preventive screening in such countries leads to late diagnosis, which in turn means more expensive treatment — and much poorer prognosis.

The economic costs of non-communicable diseases are astronomical. But still worse are the intangible and non measurable costs. There is no price tag on the anxiety and pain of the sufferer. There is no cost-benefit analysis that can sufficiently describe the impact on family and friends.

Ms Migiro strongly felt that, “Raising awareness is a simple and economical way to prevent non-communicable diseases. Two thirds of all new cases of non-communicable diseases can be prevented by addressing the four main risk factors: tobacco use, unhealthy diets, lack of exercise and excessive alcohol consumption.”

She stressed that Media is critical to public health campaigns against Non-Communicable Diseases and can play a proactive role to break the many myths surrounding NCDs. Preventive and curative measures are there to deal with them. It now remains to build the political will to leverage this knowledge into progress, and to inform the public correctly and help them to make the right choices.
In her words, “journalists can expose lies and offer the objective truth. Articles and television programmes can promote exercise, responsible alcohol consumption and healthy eating. They can encourage people to go for screening and take other preventive measures. Ultimately, you in the media can help save lives.”

Jittima Jantanamalaka (CNS), New York, USA and Shobha Shukla (CNS), India

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