As health leaders are discussing NCDs during the World Health Assembly this week in Geneva, we wanted to highlight an op-ed we wrote on building a social movement with a focus on mobilizing the power of women and youth to combat this crisis. It also highlights NCDs as a social justice issue. Building a Global Movement: Putting NCDs on the Radar was co-authored with Sandeep P. Kishore of the Young Professionals Chronic Disease Network and published last night on Huffington Post.
How many Huffington Post readers know that there is a major UN High Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) this September? Or for that matter what NCDs are (WHO definition: Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancers and chronic lung diseases)?
Or that this is only the second time in history that a health focused UN Summit is taking place, 10 years after the one on HIV/AIDS in 2001? We believe that the UN High Level Meeting on NCDs is an unprecedented opportunity for the world to become energized and mobilized to take action against NCDs.
Two enduring documents produced recently are a Lancet article listing priority actions countries can take to combat NCDs,and the Moscow Declaration, produced by the world’s Health Ministers at a conference held in Moscow (which Vladimir Putin attended).
Also worthy of mention is the Youth Manifesto, from the Young Professionals Chronic Disease Network and its social movement arm NCD Action Network. These health professionals are working to demonstrate that young people are concerned about NCDs, can mobilize, and do have an important voice. At the Moscow conference they drew attention (including from WHO’s Margaret Chan), by framing NCDs as the social justice issue of today’s youth, akin to HIV/AIDS.
Still, it seems to us that the issue has stayed at the NCD community level. People speak to and convince the already committed. While gaining the attention of policy elites is important, we believe that more must be done for the world to mobilize against NCDs. The time is now for the NCD movement to make a concerted effort to engage the rest of the world, especially women and youth, in this fight. We need to mount a social movement framing NCDs as the social justice issue of our generation.
Why are women and youth especially important?
Women and NCDs
Women are disproportionately affected by some NCDs – we all know about breast and cervical cancers. But women dying from cooking smoke? See recent opinion pieces:
Did you know that stopping tobacco use, increasing physical activity and eating healthy foods can prevent 80% of heart disease and diabetes? We believe that women play a very important role in preventing NCDs in future generations because they are the gatekeepers of their family’s health – influencing what their children eat, and the games they play. We appeal to policy makers and civil society to pay more attention to women as a solution to the NCD crisis.
NCDs affect young people
Children as young as eight are now showing signs of NCDs. Without action, this epidemic will kill millions of people later in life who are now the world’s youth. Today’s children are, for the first time in history, probably growing up sicker than previous generations. Dr. Amina Aitsi-Selmi, based in London, expressed it very well – “Young people are entering the prime of their lives to discover that they are infected with a metabolic ‘virus’ that may lead to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancers. They acquired this virus through no real fault of their own, by being exposed to modern lifestyles and unhealthy urban environments. The only way to move forward is to reclaim ownership of how the world and our future are shaped.”
NCDs are a social justice issue
These diseases affect the poorest people on earth, and 80% of deaths due to NCDs are concentrated in developing countries. NCDs are keeping the world from reaching the Millennium Development Goals and plunging millions into poverty. The economic cost of global inaction will be profiled by David Bloom of Harvard at the Global Health Council conference in June.
NCDs suffer from an image problem – even with reams of evidence on their developmental impact, they are viewed as issues of the rich, the old, and often as “self-inflicted” – because of laziness or overeating. We take a different view. The core risk factors for these diseases (e.g. tobacco use, limited access to healthy, fresh foods, etc.) are social factors that can and should be modified. It is time we moved on from blaming people for their afflictions. Instead, we must emphasize political responsibility and the power of governmental and international regulation.
So how do we build a social movement for NCDs? This is a huge challenge, but we believe it begins with young people, with empowering women, and by building relationships with other organizations advocating for change. Our two organizations are joining forces to build a global social movement for NCDs, to generate political momentum in the years ahead. If the recent months have taught us anything, it is that we cannot wait for world leaders to act – we must move from the bottom-up, building momentum at the social and community grass-roots level. We refuse to sit on the sidelines. Will you join us?
Mr. Sandeep P. Kishore is Co-Chair of the Young Professionals Chronic Disease Network (www.ncdaction.org).
Dr. Nalini Saligram is Founder and CEO of Arogya World (www.arogyaworld.org).