Shaping responsive health systems for people living with NCDs

Dr Tin Maung Htwe, Editor-in-Chief, Health Digest Journal, Myanmar

There are two major groups of diseases in the world: (i) Communicable or infectious diseases and (ii) Non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Communicable diseases are caused by pathogenic or disease-causing microorganisms (such as bacteria, viruses, etc.) that infect the human body and make it sick- for example malaria, tuberculosis, AIDS (Auto Immune Deficiency Syndrome). Some of them can spread from one infected human to another. On the other hand NCDs on the other hand are not caused by microbes and are not transmissible directly from one person to another.

Non-communicable diseases are often referred to as lifestyle diseases as they mostly result from totally preventable causes like tobacco use, alcohol use, unhealthy diets and physical inactivity. Yet they account for over 70% (41 million) of all deaths globally- more than the total number of deaths due to all communicable diseases put together.

Listing the non-communicable diseases will make a very long one, but some of the most important and common ones are cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, various cancers, and chronic respiratory diseases- like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma, hypertension (high blood pressure).
Most non-communicable diseases are chronic in nature and last for a lifetime. If left untreated, or not properly treated they can cause health complications leading to disabilities and shortened life expectancy. In addition to making frequent visit to hospitals, taking sick leave and reducing physical ability, there can be social consequences as well as economic losses.

Fortunately, almost all non-communicable diseases can be prevented. Major diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer can be prevented. These diseases are caused by lifestyle behaviours, that is lack of a healthy lifestyle. Eating unhealthy foods, eating too much sugary ,salty and fatty foods, not taking enough physical exercising, smoking and use of various tobacco products, and harmful use of alcohol are the main culprits of non communicable diseases.

Government agencies, non-governmental organizations, stakeholders, private donors, and partners should provide health care to the public, including health education to help them adopt healthier lifestyles, and to ensure access to early detection and treatment for people suffering from non-communicable diseases, and putting in place other preventive measures like controlling use of tobacco products.

Covid-19 pandemic and non-communicable diseases:

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the UN General Assembly in 2015 call for a one-third reduction in premature deaths due to NCDs by 2030. However, efforts to keep the SDGs on track and achieve the NCDs related goals have been hampered in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Covid-19 is endangering even the healthiest of people. It could have a devastating effect on those living with NCDs and can lead to an increased risk of death for them. The need to focus on the prevention and control of NCDs is an urgent matter.

A panel discussion held recently by NCD Alliance called for changing the current health system by putting people first while shaping responses for people living with NCD in Covid-19 era.

Dr. Monika Arora, President elect of NCD Alliance said that early detection of the disease, proper care and treatment through supply of essential drugs and rehabilitation services must be provided to people with NCDs. It is important to ensure a people centred approach, she said.

Dr Noor Azmi Ghazali, Deputy Minister of Health, Malaysia, insisted that as NCDs are usually lifestyle diseases and hence preventable, health literacy promotion for the people must be encouraged, investments in health should be increased to cope with the increasing burden of NCDs and health should be an integral part of all government policies.

Meaningful participation and involvement of the youth are also necessary, and use of digital technology and tele medicine can go a long way in reducing hospital visits for people with NCDs, especially in times of the pandemic, when risk of infection is high and hospitals are already overburdened with Covid patients.

Member organisations of NCD Alliance, and all local and international partners providing health care for the people, including the media, should work together to address the challenges of non-communicable diseases during and after the Covid-19 pandemic and also during other humanitarian crises, including the political crisis which some countries, including Myanmar, are facing currently. It is important to devise innovative methods to help people living with NCDs to live a good quality of life and to prevent premature deaths.

Dr Tin Maung Htwe

Editor-in-Chief, Health Digest Journal, Myanmar

June 2021


(published in The Standard Time Daily newspaper, Myanmar)