During the EASD meeting in Stockholm last week, I spoke with International Diabetes Federation (IDF) CEO/executive director Ann Keeling about recent progress in efforts to focus attention on the global health epidemic of noncommunicable disease (NCD). Ms. Keeling had flown to Stockholm from New York, where she attended an NCD side panel event held during the United Nations’ 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Summit.
Unlike the sparsely attended UN NCD panel in April, this one was packed. “It was amazing. There were something like 200 people in the room. Senior government people were making strong statements about NCDs,” she told me.
Why the difference? In May, the UN announced a resolution—sponsored by 130 countries—to hold a special Summit on NCDs in September 2011. Just as the UN Summit on HIV/AIDS in 2001 brought attention and international aid to that cause, the NCD summit is expected to focus the world’s attention on the emerging epidemics of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and tobacco use that are disproportionately affecting poor and middle-income nations in terms of both health and wealth.
Ms. Keeling chairs the NCD Alliance, a coalition comprising the IDF, the World Heart Federation, the Union for International Cancer Control, and the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease. Formed in May 2009, the Alliance had lobbied for the UN NCD Summit. Now, with a year to go, it is gearing up for it. Last week the Alliance issued an official plan of action leading up to the Summit.
Over the next year, the Alliance will continue to lobby governments and the private sector to raise awareness of NCDs, including arguing the business case for investing in prevention and treatment. The fact that NCDs affect working-age adults means that economies are threatened, Ms. Keeling said. “In a generation, there will be cities full of sick people and a sick workforce. This has huge implications for competitiveness.”
The current 2015 MDGs, which do not mention NCDs, are falling short. The Alliance is calling for NCD indicators to be included in successor goals aimed beyond 2015 but not to wait until then to act, as some governments have suggested. “Why on earth would you wait 5 years? We have a real chance to intervene in Africa, where obesity and diabetes are rising fast. If we can start now, we can head off something that would be so much worse in 5 years’ time.”
Two additional events last week reflect increased recognition of the importance of NCDs. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which influences developing nations on spending priorities, issued a report entitled “Health: OECD says governments must fight fat,” describing with stark statistics the rising burden of obesity worldwide.
And last week during the Clinton Global Initiative, Medtronic announced a $1 million grant to the NCD Alliance in preparation for the 2011 Summit. That’s significant, Ms. Keeling said. “When companies and philanthropists put big pledges on the agenda, it signals what’s important.”
-Miriam E. Tucker (@MiriamETucker on Twitter)