The 65th World Health Assembly is convening this week in Geneva, beginning May 21. For six days, the Assembly will focus the world’s attention on chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs), universal health coverage, mental disorders, nutrition and adolescent pregnancy, among other health issues.
This is the second time in less than a year that chronic NCDs — such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and lung diseases — are in the international spotlight. Last fall, the High Level Summit on Non-Communicable Diseases convened in New York, when, for only the second time in the history of the United Nations, a high level summit focused on a global health concern.
Over the last decade, disability and death to chronic NCDs have ballooned to epidemic proportions around the world as people increasingly survive communicable diseases. In fact the recently published World Health Statistics 2012 report called chronic NCDs “the health challenge of the 21st century” and chose chronic NCDs as one of three highlighted topics for this year’s report.
The data are staggering.
- 63 percent of the 57 million global deaths in 2008 were due to chronic NCDs
- 80 percent of these deaths — 29 million — occurred in low and middle income countries
- 48 percent of these deaths in low and middle income countries occurred among people under the age of 70, compared to just 26 percent in high income countries
- Adopt one overall target to reduce preventable deaths to chronic NCDs by 25 percent by 2025
- Reinstate the five indicators on alcohol, multidrug therapy, obesity, salt reduction and trans-fats, bringing the total number of tracked indicators to ten
- Support the creation of a Global Coordinating Platform on NCDs that will be empowered to develop a global plan for NCDs
- Ensure that NCDs are a key outcome of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio this June
MSH is committed to addressing the rising burden of chronic NCDs by strengthening health systems, grounding health policy in the principle of universal health coverage, advocating for an integrated approach to the delivery of health care, and promoting partnerships across all sectors (public, private, civil) to ensure a coordinated response.
With support from USAID, MSH is working with countries to increase access to prevention, diagnosis, and treatment services for chronic NCDs. In Uganda, for example, MSH is leveraging the existing infrastructure for HIV & AIDS to provide services for cervical and breast cancer to HIV-positive women. Since March 2011, the project has screened more than 845 women for cancer in 18 health centers.
In Tanzania, MSH is integrating chronic NCD services with HIV & AIDS services by coordinating grants, training staff, and strengthening laboratory services. In 2011, one HIV & AIDS treatment center identified 15 percent of its 3,400 patients as having a chronic NCD. With assistance from MSH, the Government of Rwanda has developed a national health insurance program that covers chronic NCDs and has achieved coverage for more than 90 percent of the population. This is part of a larger effort to ensure universal health coverage for all.
As the global community strives to meet the Millennium Development Goals for 2015, chronic NCDs must receive global attention also. We must appeal to the World Health Assembly to take the above actions.
Sara A. Holtz, DrPH, MPH, contributed to this post.
Gloria Sangiwa, MD, is director of technical quality and innovation, and global technical lead on chronic non-communicable diseases, of Management Sciences for Health.
- NCD Alliance: World Health Assembly Statement with signatories, PDF
- World Health Statistics 2012 (World Health Organization)
- Closing the Global Cancer Divide: Together It Is Possible (Huffington Post)