UN High-level meeting on NCDs

The UN High-level meeting on NCDs were held September 27. In connection with the UN General Assembly. Government representatives from more than 50 countries, civil society organization, including the Danish NCD Alliance, were present at the day, to address and discuss challenges and opportunities concerning national and global actions to prevent NCDs.

Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs)
Governments across the globe are forced to take action in order to change the NCD development, which is also hampering economic growth. There are still way too many people dying prematurely from NCDs, and the negative development is especially threatening for the health systems in the developing countries. These are faced with a double burden in form of a significant increase in numbers of patients with non-communicable diseases (like cancer and diabetes) while still fighting the more traditional communicable diseases like Malaria, HIV/AIDS, Ebola etc. In the developing countries, there is a lack of human and financial resources to handle the rapidly increasing number of persons with NCDs, which underlines the necessity to promote preventive measures and inform about risk factors. If change are not made, it will not only have huge economic impact, human lives will be at stake. In order to fulfill the ambitious targets of the SDGs in 2030 a totally different level of political engagement and economic prioritization is necessary.

From the village to the UN             
The day prior to the high-level meeting DNCDA together with the governments of Denmark, Kenya, and Tanzania, along with Novo Nordisk, East Africa NCD Alliance and the Global NCD Alliance hosted a so-called side-event entitled “Combatting NCDs from Village to the UN”.

Tanzania Minister of Health Ummy Mwalimu

A number of prominent names from both East Africa and most of the world participated in the event. Amongst others the Minister of Health from Tanzania Hon. MS. Ummy Mwalimu, a long line of representatives from the private sector, international organizations and civil society. Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Health Per Okkels represented Denmark.

Permanent Secretary Per Okkels

The side-event had its main focus on the story of the patient, and the consequences of getting a disease in East Africa. Edward Konzolo, a heart patient from Kenya, told his touching story about how he experienced receiving an extremely limited treatment after being hit by a stroke, which nearly killed him.

Heart patient Edward L. Konzolo

With Edwards story it was clear that as a NCD patient in Afrika, one is not only subject to poor treatment and information, but also stigma in the local community, due to lact of knowledge about how to react in relation to suddenly ill or disabled persons, like in Edwards case were he was paralyzed in large parts of the body. Edward further explained his difficulties with accepting that he was no longer the one providing for the family, but instead were the one being provided for.

Edward is still not able to take a job, but has used a lot of his time mobilizing a network of heart patients in Kenya, a network now cooperating with other patient organisations in Kenya NCD Alliance in the fight to improve the health system. 

Political declaration on the fight against NCD
One of the results from the high-level meeting is a political declaration from the head of states recommending an accelerated effort against NCDs, to secure good health for current and future generation (see the full version here). From a civil society perspective, it is very positive that the declaration explicitly acknowledge the importance of including civil society in planning and development of national plans against NCDs.
Inclusion and involvement of civil society and thereby patients, is key to make sure the interventions are fitted to the needs. On the positive side is also the huge attention created by the high-level meeting regarding the NCDs both before and during the actual general assembly week.

From the civil society, we however had hoped that the political declaration had gone MUCH further than the case is. The all-encountering challenge that of financing for NCDs is not dealt with. Moreover, an explicit reference to implementation of WHOs “best buys” is missing, these are a number of cost-efficient tools to reduce NCDs, hereunder tax on tobacco and alcohol, this despite of clear empirical evidence showing a large effect. Finally, it is highly disappointing that the next high-level meeting is planned to be held in seven years. Thereby the interval between the high-level meetings is increased from the current four – despite the challenge being greater than ever.
We hope that the momentum around NCDs, created by the high-level meeting has contributed to an acceleration of the efforts attributed towards NCDs. It is of key importance in order to avoid premature deaths due to the NCDs.