UN High-level meeting on Non-communicable Disease

In connection with the UN General Assembly and the High Level Meeting on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) the Danish NCD alliance in cooperation with the governments of Denmark, Tanzania, Kenya along with Novo Nordisk and the global NCD Alliance hosted a so-called side event entitled “Combatting NCDs from the Village to the UN”

The Event
Several prominent names participated in the side event, amongst others the Minister of Health of Tanzania Hon. Ms. Ummy Mwalimu, Permanent Secretary for the Danish Ministry of Health Per Okkels and heart patient Edward L. Konzolo (parts of their speeches can be found here). Moreover there were speeches from Director of Development of the Danish NCD Alliance Stefan Islandi, Chairman of the East African NCD Alliance Professor Gerald Yonga and CEO of Amref Health Africa Dr. Githinji Gitahi.

North-South Cooperation
From the Danish NCD Alliance we had focus on the role of civil society in the fight against NCDs, and how north-south cooperation should be developed further along with its role in fighting NCDs.

Stefan Islandi about prevention

The Danish Minister of Development Cooperation has a lot of focus on public and private actors and has said that development aid is a drop in the ocean when it comes to fighting NCDs. We agree with the minister that development aid, can and should not stand alone, but contrary to the minister we think development aid (especially if all countries fulfilled the UN target of providing 0,7%) could play a significant role in the fight against NCDs, including in attracting private investments to the most challenged countries.

Stefan Islandi about doctors in Burundi

North-south cooperation is not only to be seen as north supporting south. While we in Denmark has gone far in the fight against the NCDs, not least within development of treatment in recent years, and can share a lot of knowledge within this area and many others, we can also learn and be inspired from the counties in south. For example has Kenya a much more restrictive tobacco policy than we have in Denmark, and if we compare with GDP per capita, the price of cigarettes is 8 times as high in Kenya as in Denmark.

The past 9 years we have supported the development of 6 different NCD alliances in East Africa, which today are some of the strongest patient organisations on the continent. We hope to further develop and strengthen this strong cooperation in the coming years. Moreover, we hope that we will continue to be able to share the great knowledge of our organisations (the Danish Cancer Society and Danish Diabetes Association) while continuing to learn from and be inspired by our partners.     

The hope lies in national initiatives
In his speech, Professor Yonga highlighted the importance of presenting the governments with the business case for prevention of NCDs, and convince the Ministers of Finance of the fact that the NCDs are keeping people in poverty. Illness – not least NCD related, which are typically long term, keeps them from contributing to the economic growth and thereby limits the economic prosperity of the country as a whole.

Professor Yonga NCD business case

Both Professor Yonga and dr. Gitahi agreed about the importance of universal health coverage with the individual as the centre for prevention and treatment. In principle, it does not matter whether the disease is a NCD, HIV or something third, what is important is to integrate prevention and treatment for all disease in the existing infrastructure.

Dr. Githinji Gitahi about regulation

Besides development and integration of health infrastructure, regulation is an important tool for the individual country. Especially the food industry does in many African countries lack regulation. A consequence of this is that global companies have outcompeted healthy local food in favour of cheap junk, so today burgers are eaten in many slums instead of bananas and cassava.

Dr. Githinji Gitahi about universal health coverage

To promote such policy measures and secure a good implementation it is important that the patients are included so the policies can be formed in the best possible manner for the persons who are in the end the ones to hopefully benefit from them.

Despite some critical voices related to the outcome of the high level meeting dr. Githai highlighted that there is hope, as many of the initiatives necessary in the fight against NCDs depends on the individual countries and not the international community. He was happy to see that doctor’s, professors and politicians in the East African countries have now engaged themselves and sees the necessity of taking action.