Women As A Powerful Solution to the NCDs Crisis
As the seven billionth person came into this world on October 31, 2011, we at Arogya World can’t help but reflect that the impact of non-communicable diseases, NCDs, like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and chronic lung diseases, is greater than ever before. The fact is that most of these 7 billion people will die of NCDs, wherever in the world they may live. The health and wellbeing of these billions of people, as well as the course of their lives on earth, will largely be dictated by how we address NCDs.
We are pleased that with the historic UN High Level Meeting on NCDs on September 19 and 20, 2011, and the ensuing Political Declaration (http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A%2F66%2FL.1&Lang=E) that 193 member states adopted, NCDs have been recognized as one of the major development challenges of the century. We celebrate the UN’s Every Woman Every Child initiative as a pivotal effort that is rallying the world’s attention and resources to improve the lives of women and children. But, we believe that direct, overt and powerful links must be drawn between women, children and NCDs.
When the world takes care of women, women take care of the whole world.
Women for a Healthy Future attempts to do just that. Started by Arogya World, Women for a Healthy Future is a collaborative effort between 12 global health and women-focused organizations who have joined forces to mobilize women from around the world to demand urgent action against NCDs from world leaders in government and business (http://www.change.org/petitions/women-demand-a-healthy-future-free-of-chronic-disease). We believe that by taking action to reduce the vulnerability of women and children to NCDs, the world can take a giant step forward in sustainable development.
We also welcome the extraordinary opportunity to think through solutions for sustainable development provided by Rio+20 in June 2012, and want to highlight the following fundamentals we firmly believe in:
NCDs are Central to Development
NCDs are the world’s number one killer, killing 35 million people each year. Children and young people face an uncertain, unhealthy future with this exploding NCD crisis.
NCDs are a social justice issue. Not just the burden of the rich, 80 percent of NCD deaths actually occur in developing countries, where people have lower access to medicines and health care, and where it may be harder to live healthy lifestyles.
NCDs drive people into poverty, while poverty results in rising rates of NCDs. In developing countries, if someone falls ill, their family can be pushed into ever deeper levels of poverty by the loss of income and costs of care, which can mount for decades.
NCDs are a barrier to global development. In 2010 the World Economic Forum rated NCDs as the second most severe threat to the global economy, equal in cost to the financial crisis. New studies (http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Harvard_HE_GlobalEconomicBurdenNonCommunicableDiseases_2011.pdf) estimate that the global price tag of NCDs is in the tens of trillions of dollars.
NCDs are a Women’s Issue
NCDs have a direct impact on women’s health
NCDs are the #1 killer of women. A staggering 50,000 women lose their lives to NCDs every day. We know that women suffer from breast and cervical cancer, are learning that heart disease is their #1 killer, and that women are uniquely affected by NCD risk factors – for eg smoking is more dangerous for women, especially pregnant women.
NCDs impact women as caregivers
Women and girls play a critical role in caregiving. Around the world when someone needs extensive care, as with NCDs, it is the girls and women who stay home to provide care. These women fall behind in school, miss work, or are forced to accept lower paying jobs.
Women are disadvantaged with regard to prevention
While 80% of cardiovascular disease and diabetes and 40% of cancer are preventable through stopping tobacco use, increasing physical activity and improving diet, often these prevention efforts are not accessible to women. When women make up 2/3 of illiterate adults, they are at a great disadvantage to even learn about prevention. Moreover, social and cultural taboos sometimes restrict a woman’s engagement in physical activity, because sport is considered ‘unfeminine.’ We believe that access to sports and physical exercise is not only a right in itself, but also a catalyst for development, leading to the empowerment of women and girls.
NCDs are an integral part of maternal and child health
It is increasingly being recognized that low birth weight predisposes a baby to get diabetes and cardiovascular disease later in life. Thus it is imperative that we educate pregnant women about good nutrition so that they can have safe and healthy pregnancies and give birth to healthy babies of normal birth weight.
NCDs impact the next generation
Women are fiercely concerned about the health and futures of their children. Children have a right to health. They deserve a dynamic future full of hope and happiness, a future where they can live their dreams and become productive world citizens. Aggressive marketing of tobacco products, junk foods and sugary drinks, and alcohol to children and young people is threatening that future. Our children and young people are growing up sicker than the previous generation. Tax tobacco, ban sugary drinks in schools, reduce salt – these are some of the key requests that the Women for a Healthy Future movement puts to business leaders around the world.
It Is Our Responsibility to Fix the NCD Crisis
The truth is that on our watch, in our lifetimes, NCDs have exploded. We must do something about it. Prevention with a focus on women, children and young people is the way forward. As heads of households, women in particular are decision makers about the food a family eats and its levels of physical activity. Women can lead the way in NCD prevention. Sweeping changes to policy and the way we do business are a must.
About Arogya World: Arogya World is a US based non-profit organization, committed to changing the course of chronic disease, one community at a time.
Women for a Healthy Future is the organization’s key global advocacy effort. Other organizations that have joined Arogya World in this effort are Global Health Council, Women Deliver, World YWCA, NCD Alliance, NCD Child, NCD Action, Public Health Institute, Hriday, The Max Foundation, Disruptive Women in Health Care and Beyond Sport.
Arogya World is also working on diabetes prevention through lifestyle changes in India. See www.arogyaworld.org for more information.