Non-communicable diseases – stepping up the pace to reduce avoidable deaths

08 January 2018 | Cancer prevention, Policy

Bryony Sinclair, World Cancer Research Fund International Bryony Sinclair is the Senior Policy & Public Affairs Manager at World Cancer Research Fund International.

The countdown has begun

Advocates from 68 countries gathered together in Sharjah, UAE, for three days from 9–11 December for the Second Global NCD Alliance Forum. The theme was clear from the outset – we need to step up the pace on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in order to make the 2018 Third UN High-Level Meeting (UNHLM) count. To date, countries are not on track to meet global targets to reduce premature and avoidable deaths from NCDs. The UNHLM will review global and national progress in putting measures in place to prevent and control NCDs and will also be an opportunity for political leaders to commit to further action. This is why attendance by heads of state and government at the 2018 meeting is essential. Political leaders are not obliged to attend, but without their presence NCDs will not receive the attention they deserve. High-level participation is critical to expedite action and facilitate a multi-sectoral approach.

Politically neglected

NCDs are not receiving the political attention they deserve. Every year 15 million people aged 30 to 70 die from an NCD, and over 80 per cent of these premature deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. This lack of attention is unacceptable, and causes tremendous human suffering and trillions of dollars of economic loss. Implementing policies that reduce NCDs is a political challenge, not a technical one. We know what works, but many of these actions are not being implemented and are being actively opposed by the private sector (such as taxes and marketing restrictions). Addressing the commercial determinants of health, defined in the Lancet as ‘strategies and approaches used by the private sector to promote products and choices that are detrimental to health’, emerged as a key issue that needs urgent attention in the lead up to the UNHLM. It is our role as civil society to scrutinise the practices of unhealthy commodity industries and to call out strategies and practices that are detrimental to health, and delaying or preventing important government action.

Key challenges

In addition to political inertia, the CEO of the NCD Alliance, Katie Dain, highlighted five other challenges facing the NCD community in the lead up to the UNHLM:

  • slow and uneven progress in tackling NCDs;
  • countries feeling overwhelmed and paralysed by the magnitude of the issue;
  • inadequate resources;
  • interference of powerful multinational companies;
  • the absence of a people’s movement.

The way forward

Several themes emerged over the three days as to how we can address these challenges and make the most of the UNHLM:

  • Amplify the voice of people living with NCDs. This is a meaningful and effective way to reach policymakers. The NCD Alliance launched an advocacy agenda for people living with NCDs at the Forum.
  • Learn from other global health movements. Kent Buse, Chief of Strategic Policy Directions at UNAIDS, outlined the ABCs of organising a movement.
  • Frame NCDs as a development challenge. This invites collaboration with civil society partners across the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), recognising that NCDs are woven throughout the SDGs and require action from sectors outside of health.
  • Engage youth – listen and follow through, acting with them on their insights.
  • Build on existing action. Celebrate successes and encourage governments to learn from action being taken elsewhere. Our NOURISHING policy database showcases implemented government policy actions from around the world that promote healthy diets and reduce overweight, obesity and diet-related NCDs.

Time to step up the pace

The UNHLM offers an important opportunity for NCDs to receive some much-needed attention, and for heads of state and government to commit to action. National level advocacy is therefore key to secure attendance of heads of state and government at the 2018 UNHLM. As crucial agitators of change, now is the time for civil society to dig in its heels and coordinate, communicate, agitate and advocate!

To learn more about what we are doing at WCRF International to promote policy action to tackle NCDs, see our partnerships and policy statements, and explore NOURISHING.

Bryony Sinclair | 08 January 2018

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