This post was written by Loyce Pace-Bass at the LIVESTRONG Foundation.
Melinda Gates speaks at WHA / Photo: Laurent Huber
It’s hard to believe just a few of years ago NCDs were an outlier at WHO’s annual meeting, barely featuring on the agenda. People still questioned whether it should be a focus of member-state negotiations, in lieu of other pressing priorities and plans. We know by now that times have changed, spurred by events like the UN summit on NCDs and the overwhelming evidence justifying countries take meaningful action to address their growing global health burden.
For the past couple of World Health Assembly meetings, we’ve seen a visible shift in the way NCDs are positioned and discussed. In fact, WHO has played a key role in operationalizing those commitments outlined in the 2011 political declaration. In 2012, member states agreed to a global target to reduce mortality from NCDs by 25% by the year 2025. Then, in 2013, countries agreed to a more comprehensive set of targets as well as a global action plan. What remains is the last leg of an important 3-legged stool: the establishment of a global coordinating mechanism that would help track progress and hold stakeholders accountable for meeting mutual objectives. This is a critical outcome of the current assembly.
What’s more nuanced – but just as important – is that the issue of NCDs has become ubiquitous in debates and remarks across health issues. The director-general, Dr. Margaret Chan, has consistently featured NCDs in her opening address, this year highlighting the burden of cancer in developing countries and also announcing the establishment of a commission on childhood obesity. Even invited guest, Melinda Gates, acknowledged the link between NCDs and child health, a key health priority for her foundation.
NCDs are also a mantra throughout side events. For example, a session on people-centered care noted how people living with chronic conditions were best served by healthcare integration. With a growing population of NCD patients and survivors, it’s even more critical to treat individuals as a whole, based on their needs and preferences, instead of their specific ailments. Another forum on universal health coverage made a similar argument: as NCDs rise in prevalence, programs and services must be able to address a wide range of health problems associated with these diseases and their risk factors, ideally through broad availability, access, and equity.
NCDs have come a long way in a short time. No longer the “stepchild” of the global health community, advocates and policymakers alike have come to embrace them as a rightful priority worthy of attention through a coordinated response. And we are grateful.