The world is battling with various non-communicable diseases (NCDs) that are directly or indirectly linked with climate, sanitation, poverty and other basic health indicators.

Non-Communicable Diseases | Cause of concern

  • While mortality rates from infectious diseases are declining, developed countries’ sedentary lifestyles, tobacco use, and poor diets are catching on in the developing world, and non-communicable diseases (NDCs) such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer are increasing at an alarming rate.
  • NCDs now kill 38 million people annually, with almost 75% of those deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries.
  • By 2030, NCDs are expected to cause more deaths in Africa than communicable, maternal and nutritional illnesses combined.

Non-Communicable Diseases | Economic impact

  • NCDs can destabilize economies, especially in countries with limited health-care infrastructure.
  • The challenge for governments and global health agencies is to continue making progress against infectious diseases, while also addressing the rising NCD threat. This would involve a significant amount of investment over healthcare budgets.
  • A potential threat from NCDs is the deterioration of otherwise productive demographic dividend which may go unhealthy due to the perils of such diseases making a big scar on the global economy.

Non-Communicable Diseases | How to tackle the menace of NCDs?

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We can apply lessons from the successful fight against infectious diseases to the emerging fight against NCDs -:

  • Working with non-profit agencies, intergovernmental organizations, and private companies, world leaders can have a profound impact on public health – even if foreign-aid budgets are strained.
  • Innovation – Policies that improve access to health care should also support innovation – and they must never undermine it. For example – Without antiretroviral therapy in the mid-1990s, we would not have the tools today to control HIV. Artemisinin-based combination treatments helped in controlling malaria death rates.
  • Partnerships– We need strong partnerships to manage NCDs and ensure that patients have access to the treatment they need. We also need sustainable solutions to provide continuous, long-term care.
  • Private sector participation– Especially in resource-limited countries, private companies need to collaborate with governments and health organisations to develop scalable, sustainable and locally driven programmes to combat NCDs.
  • Political commitment– It has been observed that too few governments in developing countries spend the recommended 5% of annual GDP on promoting health. Even when national budgets are tight, health investments are worth it; after all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Investments in public health create a virtuous cycle: as people and communities begin to experience better health, they invest further in making health a priority.
  • Long term thinking– Governments need to make long term investments that might pay off only after they are no longer in office. This is a serious challenge, especially in electoral democracies; but policymakers from around the world can come together to leverage their investments and those undertaken by the private sector.

 Non-Communicable Diseases | The success story

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  • The unprecedented international cooperation has made impressive progress in the fight against malaria. According to the WHO report released in 2016 (World Malaria Report), malaria mortality rates among children under age five have fallen by 69% since 2000.
  • Many countries have reduced HIV infections by 50% or more over a similar period, and the infection rates for other debilitating tropical diseases, such as leprosy, have fallen significantly too.

Non-Communicable Diseases | Conclusion

We must prioritise global fight against NCDs over petty political concerns. Governments and global health agencies should apply lessons learned from the successful fight against infectious diseases (such as malaria, polio and HIV). Through innovation, dynamic partnerships to strengthen health systems, and political will, the world can sustain the gains made against infectious disease, while also effectively combating NCDs.

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