International nongovernmental health organizations are celebrating the United Nations General Assembly’s May 13th decision to hold a special summit on non-communicable disease in September 2011.
The summit has been a major priority for the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), the World Heart Federation, the International Union Against Cancer, and the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, which have campaigned together for it. These diseases are responsible for 35 million annual deaths globally, 80% of which occur in low- to middle-income countries.
There have been only 28 such special UNGA summits (formerly called “special sessions”) in UN history. The one on HIV/AIDS in 2001 significantly influenced political action for that crisis. To this point, noncommunicable disease has not been considered a world health priority and is not included in the Millenium Development Goals, despite increasing evidence that chronic conditions threaten economic development as well as health in the developing world.
The idea for the NCD summit is credited to former IDF President Dr. Martin Silink. I interviewed Dr. Silink last July. He said that such a high-level session would be the best way to communicate to world governing bodies the profound threat of the NCDs and the need for political action to combat them.
“This is a development issue affecting so many countries. The development of health systems is so dependent on donor country support that donor countries must also help to drive the agenda…We feel this can only be truly understood if there’s time to debate it properly. A special session would be the right forum to do this.”
Ultimately, he said, the aim is to improve care for people living with chronic conditions, but not in the same way as has been done with HIV/AIDS. “What we are not calling for is a new vertical system as has been established for HIV/AIDS. We are calling for the strengthening and development of primary health care systems, and to have the NCDs inserted into those systems.”