An Opportunity We Cannot Afford To Miss

Posted on: April 7th, 2011 by Arogya World

CSIS held a blog contest on NCDs asking authors to answer the question “What should the key priority of the upcoming UN High Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases be and why?”  This is an excellent way to mobilize the NCD community and we thank the CSIS for hosting the contest.  Our entry, republished below, was selected as the winner. For information on future contests, follow them on Twitter at @SmartGlblHealth.

The key priority of the UN Summit on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) is to ensure it lives up to its promise of being a genuinely transformative moment in world health.

The good news is that momentum is building. Until just a few months ago, the very word NCDs was unknown. Now thanks to the UN Summit, the foundational work of the WHO and of the NCD Alliance and the Global Health Council, NGOs, academic centers, individuals in key corporations, and civil society, an NCD community is beginning to gel. We are debating the definition of NCDs, issuing Declarations articulating the “asks” from the UN Summit, attending conferences and meetings to discuss how we can address NCDs the world over, and encouragingly, we are mostly agreeing with one another. The Summit has already energized the entire NCD community.

So what must happen for the Summit to be considered transformative? It should serve as a pivotal point to rally the whole world, touching not just the UN, policy elites, and the NCD community, but families everywhere. It must make NCDs resonate with the man on the street, so that everyone the world over is clear on the issues, what their governments and communities are doing to address them and what they themselves can do to prevent them.

The Summit should ignite action. It should lead everyone to ask themselves the question – How can I use my platform and my sphere of influence to help reduce the crippling public health impact of NCDs? It should lead to the global health community embracing NCDs fully and to donors investing in them substantially. Heads of State should attend the UN Summit, and make public commitments to address NCDs in their own countries and globally. The Summit provides a wonderful opportunity for industry to show sincere engagement in improving the lives of people in the communities where they live and work. And for NGOs to show how they can do better.

The Summit should deliver some long-term political wins. It should address how NCDs will get included in the next iteration of MDGs and also how the world will pay for NCDs. It should identify some way the world will monitor progress post-summit. And it should foster true collaboration between multiple sectors globally and in-country, because a multi-sectoral approach is the best solution for these complex diseases. The UN could issue a “how-to” guide for countries – spelling out for example how countries can move from a disease-specific to a people-centered approach as the WHO recommends, or change from vertical to diagonal health delivery, or even how health systems could be strengthened.

I don’t think we can declare the Summit “transformative” until people feel a sense of personal responsibility and make healthy lifestyle choices to prevent disease, until leaders step up and “own” the crisis, until governments roll out national NCD plans, until we figure out how to measure results, and until health and non-health, state and non-state players work together to deliver sustainable solutions. This wont all happen before September, but the work should begin now.

NCDs are our generation’s problem to fix. And fix it we must. The UN Summit is our first step.