Overcoming premature deaths from non communicable diseases

Francis Okoye, CNS Correspondent, Nigeria
Health experts from the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union) and NCD Alliance, and a cancer survivor who is also Founder President of Race to Rein in Cancer took part in a lively webinar, organised by Citizens News Service (CNS) on the topic ‘How can we generate stronger action against Non-Communicable Diseases?’

One of the important outcomes of the 70th World Health Assembly held in May 2017 was firm mandate from governments globally to generate stronger action against NCDs that account for 70% of the premature deaths globally. Combating NCDs is ‘one of my top priorities for the WHO’ said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, newly elected WHO Director General. Earlier in 2015, over 190 governments had committed themselves to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs), one of which is to reduce premature mortality due to NCDs by one third by 2030. Untimely and premature deaths from NCDs are unacceptable. But are we on track to meet this target and are death rate due to NCDs declining and declining fast enough?

Cristina Parson Perez, Capacity Development Director of NCD Alliance, spoke on the global policy landscape. Going down history, she recalled that the first global policy on NCD was made in 2011 by the heads of states – it was a global acknowledgement of the serious issues posed by NCDs.  In 2015 the WHO 2015 – 2020 action plan also emerged.  It was in 2015 that the 17 SDGs with 169 targets came into being, one of the being reducing premature deaths from NCDs by 33% by 2030.

But very little seems to have been done to translate these commitments into actual action at ground level. Perez listed some of the challenges in the fight against NCDs:

Weak Political Commitment

Countries will have to make national plans and execute them with the help of civil society, putting people living with NCDs centre stage and involve them meaningfully.

Limited Progress in Engaging Non Health Sector

There is a huge opportunity here, to engage and collaborate with the Ministries of Education, Transport, Finance, Trade etc to put in policies that promote health living by encouraging people/students to walk, cycle, exercise, avoid fast food and sugary drinks.

Lack of Access to Financing for National NCD Programme and Interventions

Governments should think on how to fund their NCD programmes. The total money spent on NCDs in 2016 worldwide was just 1.7% of the total health funding. We should be able to raise funds from domestic and private sectors. Dr Ehsan Latif, Senior Advisor (NCDs) at the Union made a strong case for taxing the food and beverages industry, whose products are fuelling NCDs, to raise resources

Weak Health Systems

Community based primary healthcare should have integrated cost effective NCD interventions attached to them and into National Health care of countries. WHO has made a technical report on 5 cost effective NCD interventions.

Commercial Determinants of Health

Efforts should be made to protect policy makers from commercial influence of industry. Countries should seek guidance and support for this. Latif wonders if the countries have the right infrastructure, personnel, and capacity to develop effective action plans to combat NCDs. According to him there is an urgent need to address the avoidable risk factors for NCDs- tobacco use, unhealthy dietary habits, lack of physical exercise, and alcohol abuse. We will have to increase the capacity of international NCD alliances, raise community voices, and translate international plans to local and national health plans and set up structures, and build alliances across various structures.

On a personal note, learn to walk sometimes, do not sit in office from 9 am – 5 pm, exercise, climb the stairs instead of taking the lift, do not gorge on junk food, do not guzzle sweet drinks, and say no to tobacco and smoking.

Francis Okoye, Citizen News Service - CNS
July 10, 2017