Thursday, September 15, 2011

Communicating on non-communicable diseases

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
The initials NCD (non-communicable diseases) should become as familiar as NGO, MDG, HIV, CNN and WHO if used often enough. Why, even AH1N1 (hard to say for the H-challenged) made it to our vocabulary. Many Filipinos prefer to just say “Ahini.”

So, say NCD. Popularize it. Because fighting NCD is now on the global agenda and it better be on our national agenda, too.

Many diseases vie for attention. Advocates for their control and obliteration from the face of the earth are doing their best to lobby for funds, research, medicines and action on the part of their leaders.

There are two categories: the infectious or communicable, and the non-communicable. Cancer is an example of an NCD. Like other NCDs, and depending on many factors, it could be preventable, controllable, treatable and curable.
On Sept. 19 and 20 the High-Level Meeting (HLM or summit) on Non-Communicable Diseases will take place at the United Nations in New York. It is not often that the UN convenes a summit to tackle diseases. The last one was in 2001, which was on HIV-AIDS, a communicable disease.
Last June the American Cancer Society convened an international media forum to drum up the importance of the high-level meeting on NCDs. Global Cancer Ambassadors from the Philippines Dr. Rachel Rosario, Emer Rojas and Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala were in attendance and, upon their return, they embarked on an information campaign on NCDs in order to call the attention of government, civil society groups and the media.

The Sept. 19 UN summit will bring together the world’s heads of state/government to develop global strategies to address the urgent problem of the rising rate of NCDs, which are the world’s leading cause of death. The summit is expected to focus on galvanizing action at global and national levels to address the health and socio-economic impacts of NCDs. Multi-sectoral approaches are important in NCD prevention and control.

This summit is expected to come out with a political declaration that will determine the course of action over the next years for nations to address the NCD epidemic in order to save lives. Tobacco control is expected to be high on the agenda. The NCD Alliance has been calling for the accelerated implementation of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

This once-in-a-generation gathering is seen as an opportunity to put cancer and other NCDs on the global health agenda. According to the American Cancer Society, cancer and other NCDs have traditionally been neglected by the global community. NCDs receive less than 3 percent of public and private funding. The global health agenda has been dominated by HIV-AIDS, malaria, TB, maternal and child health.

NCDs are a development issue because their risk factors are closely linked to poverty. The arguments are strong. NCDs are a serious threat to the health of people in developing countries. Some 63 percent of all deaths in the world are due to NCDs; more than 80 percent are in developing countries; 90 percent of those who die from NCDs below age 60 are in developing countries and economies in transition. Most of these deaths could have been prevented.

There is unequivocal evidence that NCDs are a threat to socio-economic development in developing countries. The NCD epidemic is growing faster in the poorest countries where the poorest people are more likely to smoke and often spend more on tobacco than on education, health and clothing combined. The cost of treating NCDs creates a poverty trap for poor families.

NCDs hold back the attainment of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in developing countries, particularly Goal 1 which is to “eradicate extreme hunger and poverty” and the health-related goals.

Will focus on cancer and other NCDs undermine efforts for HIV-AIDS and infectious diseases control, maternal health and other priorities? NCD prevention and control advocates will tell you that if development efforts are to succeed, they must address all diseases that trap households in cycles of illness and poverty.

For example, TB epidemic control is made difficult by coexisting epidemics of HIV and NCDs. Tobacco use, a leading cause of NCDs, is a big risk factor in the spread of TB. NCDs and infectious diseases are a double burden.

Interventions for NCDs will not undermine other global health goals. They will, in fact, contribute towards the MDG goals. Controlling NCDs can help reduce poverty and promote gender equality and child health. Reducing adult death rates and disability reduces poverty and promotes economic growth.

Preventing NCDs diminishes the overall burden on health services. But this implies strengthening of health systems under strong leadership. Governments must invest in cancer and NCD control, through health literacy, technology and delivery of services.

So, although this historic UN summit on NCDs is for heads of state/government (with some representatives of NGOs, academia and the private sector in attendance), it is important that those of us on the ground keep watch and stay informed. Summits such as this hold the key in shaping priorities and mobilizing coordinated global action plans.
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The 3rd “Silver Linings,” an educational forum and homecoming for breast cancer survivors and their circle of support, will be held at the Grand Regal Hotel in Davao City on Sept. 17, Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. It is organized by icanserve, “a sisterhood like no other.” Registration fee is only P100 and includes meals. I hope to meet women from the rural sectors who will be there, and listen to their stories.

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