We all know the adage that some things have to be seen to be believed. In fact, the opposite is often true: some things have to be believed to be seen.
— William Foege. Global Health Council Annual Conference June 17, 2011. Washington, D.C. And in his new book, House on Fire (p 53).
Over the last eight days those of us in the global health community have had much cause to believe, and we are also seeing big things happen.
On Friday June 17, Dr. Bill Foege, one of the luminaries in the global health world who is credited with doing more than anyone else to eradicate smallpox from the planet, spoke to Global Health Council conference attendees. Known for his remarkable insights into public health, successful coalitions and human nature, Dr. Foege did not disappoint. In fact, he was brilliant. He gave us the most remarkable message of the week – Sometimes you have to believe for things to be seen.
We believe, Dr. Foege. We in the NCD community believe that we can raise our voices and get the world to rally around NCDs, that heads of state will attend the UN High Level meeting on September 19 and 20 in New York, that governments will make real strides to address NCDs in their countries, that we can get women and youth mobilized and engaged.
In fact, it’s been a remarkable week in global health.
Last week, on June 13, 2011, in London, GAVI raised $4.3 billion for childhood immunization, moving global health one big step forward. The fact that GAVI raised more than it had anticipated makes us believe that the donors will step forward and make the big investments in global health when needed.
The next day a major conference began half way across the world in Washington, D.C. – the annual gathering of the Global Health Council. With an emphasis on non-communicable diseases (NCDs), and by convening 2,000 passionate global health enthusiasts, and many inspiring speakers, the conference did more than anything else to reinforce our faith in the NCD movement. Coming about 100 days in advance of the UN High Level Meeting on NCDs, the conference was energizing and we think it helped the NCD community to better frame the issues– ‘NCDs are a social justice issue’ and ‘Health is a human right’ are two of the many themes that resonated throughout the conference. Dr. David Bloom’s calculation that NCDs cost a staggering $31 trillion was unveiled for the first time, allowing costs for action and inaction against NCDs to sink in.
Right in the middle of the Global Health Council meeting was the much-anticipated UN Civil Society Hearing on NCDs. Among the memorable moments were the passionate address from the mother of a cancer survivor – the glamorous Princess Dina Mired from Jordan, who also spoke movingly at a panel discussion at the GHC – and a quote from Tom Frieden of the CDC: “the best way to predict the future is to control it.”
In addition, earlier this week, on June 21st, the United Nations circulated its important report in advance of the September Summit. “Prevention and control of non-communicable diseases” affirms that NCDs are responsible for nearly two-thirds of deaths worldwide, costing the global economy trillions of dollars. And it is finally generating some significant, much-needed media attention to the NCD issues, bringing facts and figures to life
And the FDA’s new graphic cigarette warning requirements, also unveiled on June 21st, as well as the recently launched My Plate icon reinforce for us that everyone – the U.S. included – is contributing to the NCD movement as it gathers speed.