Are Non-Communicable Diseases a Development Issue?
BCUN Multi-Sector Panel Luncheon at the UN
"Non-Communicable Diseases: A Development Issue?"
"Private Sector Wants to Be Part of Solution"
For photos of this event click this link
The developing world may be known for its struggles with HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases, but non-communicable diseases like cancer, respiratory illnesses, strokes and diabetes present an equally serious development challenge for the world’s poorest countries, said experts from private and public sectors at a panel luncheon hosted by the Business Council for the UN at the UN delegates dining room on April 20. Panelists include George Alleyne, UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean and Director Emeritus, Pan American Health Organization; Srinath Reddy, President of Public Health Foundation of India; George Mensah, Director of Heart Health and Global Health Policy, PepsiCo; Pol Vandenbroucke, VP, Development, Emerging Markets, Pfizer; Modest Mero, Minister Plenipotentiary Permanent Mission of the United Republic of Tanzania to the UN.
These diseases, broadly perceived a Western problem that can be linked to certain behaviors like smoking, excessive alcohol use, unhealthy diet and lack of exercise, actually claim 28 million lives each year in developing countries, a total that accounts for 80 percent of the 35 million annual deaths from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) around the world.
“There is a univer sality of this problem,” George Alleyne, the United Nations special envoy for HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean and director emeritus of the Pan American Health Organization, said at the multi-sector dialog event which was sponsored by Pfizer. “These are diseases of the rich and the poor, but in fact the poor are more likely to have these diseases, and they affect the poor disproportionately.”
Although non-communicable diseases have been ravaging developing countries for years, “governments are just now becoming more aware of the financial costs of NCDs,” said Laurent Huber, the director of the Framework Convention Alliance, a group of 350 organizations dedicated to carrying out the global public health treaty of the same name. “These costs,” he said, “cannot be ignored,” particularly given the effects they have on the labor force and young people.
Collaborating with BCUN on the event, which was attended by 60 invited guests from UN Permanent Missions, NGOs, private sectors, and BCUN members, were the World Heart Federation, International Diabetes Federation, International Union Against Cancer, and Framework Convention Alliance for Tobacco Control. The panel was moderated by Jeff Kluger, TIME senior editor of health, science, technology.
Pol Vandenbroucke, vice president development, emerging markets at Pfizer, agreed that between the health care costs and economic downsides of NCDs, “they are the most dangerous of epidemics over decades.”
These diseases are only recently emerging as a major problem in developing countries. “For a long time,” Alleyne said, “it was honestly felt that non-communicable diseases were just a question of the rich North. That is why they were not included in the Millennium Development Goals.” Now, however, “we have much better data and a clearer idea of the impact of these diseases. If we address these problems appropriately, progress can be made.”
Developing nations’ lagging health care infrastructure, inadequate training and prevention practices, coupled with a lack of equipment leave many non-communicable diseases undiagnosed and untreated. The World Health Organization estimates that at least 8 million annual deaths from NCDs could be prevented if proper health care were available for the many urban poor living in several Caribbean and African countries.
Panelist Modest Mero, minister plenipotentiary from the Tanzanian mission to the UN conceded that healthcare in his country is a problem. “Our government’s budget is just not adequate to fix these problems”.
Vandenbroucke of Pfizer added that steps can be taken early on to address the inadequacies. “There are many affordable pharmaceutical options available at a low cost,” he said. “Awareness is really the first issue to tackle because awareness tends to be a lot lower in the poorest part of any population.”
A UN Resolution
Raising awareness and educating people about the risks of the diseases is not the only method for stopping the spread of NCDs. A coalition ofCaribbeancountries, the Caribbean Community Initiative on Non-Communicable Diseases (Caricom), is pushing the UN General Assembly to adopt a resolution that will unite nations in the fight. Many of these countries, includingBrazil, are pushing for the diseases to be included in the Millennium Development Goals at the review summit in September.
Alleyne said he understood these countries’ urgency to incorporate non-communicable diseases into the goals, but he warned that representatives should not push too hard to make this part of the current agenda.
“It is not a good idea to try to shovel the non-communicable diseases into a system of evaluation of the MDGs at this time,” he said, adding that the goals are “too far along” to be changed now. Still, he said, “in some future time, it will be important to include these diseases in some global monitoring system, because if something can’t be measured, it can’t be done.”
Besides enforcing a global monitoring system, Alleyne and others recommended building partnerships between the public and private sectors to deal with the challenges of the diseases. Huber of the Framework Convention Alliance said this was crucial because the private sector has so much influence over people’s lifestyles.
George Mensah, a heart specialist and the director of heart health and global health at PepsiCo, said at the discussion that the private sector is willing to help. “We need to make it easier for people to make good decisions. Industry has to play by the rules and the guidelines. Having a partnership is more likely to make the industry comply than is demonizing it.”
"The Private sector, "Dr. Mensah, "wants to be a part of the solution," not the problem.