NCD Alliance boss speaks out on global burden of chronic diseases

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NCD Alliance boss speaks out on global burden of chronic diseases
NCD Alliance boss speaks out on global burden of chronic diseases

Africa-Press – Rwanda. Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are the leading cause of death worldwide and represent an emerging global health threat. According to the World Health Organization, NCDs kill 41 million people each year.

Earlier this week, from November 24 to 25, Rwanda hosted the regional NCDs Conference that gathered over 500 participants including policymakers, non-governmental organizations, advocates, academia, physicians as well private sector players under the theme “Shaping an East Africa free of NCDs through people-centered interventions and transformative development.”

Present was Cristina Parsons Perez, the Capacity Development Director of the NCD Alliance, an organization that supports in prevention and control of NCDs across the globe.

The New Times’ Reporter, Patrick Nzabonimpa had an interview with her regarding the global burden of NCDs and what is being done to address the issue. Below are the excerpts.

How is the burden of NCDs from a global perspective?

NCDs are a major problem for our societies. The five major non-communicable diseases are diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory diseases and mental health conditions; there are many more NCDs but to share some examples. These diseases are the main causes of death worldwide. They are responsible for 74 per cent of the global death annually and they are hitting low and middle-income countries the hardest where we see 85 per cent of premature deaths due to NCDs. This is not just a health issue; it’s a development issue. These diseases are draining our economies and are pushing people and households into poverty. NCDs are both a cause and a consequence of poverty. They are disproportionally impacting the most vulnerable and poorest communities.

The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted this. We see that it collided with chronic pandemic of non-communicable diseases against a background of social inequalities and exposed to our governments the need for investing in the health of their populations.

What is NCD Alliance doing to address the issue?

To address prevention and control of NCDs, we need the whole-of-society approach and that means involving governments, relevant private sector players and multilateral, bilateral agencies as well as civil society. It is crucial that civil society is strong, engaged and supported to play an important role in NCD prevention and control. At the NCD Alliance, we work to improve NCD prevention and control through advocacy, looking to influence global discussions that are happening around NCDs and making sure that these are prioritised at the highest level. We focus on advocacy and accountability. Civil society has a key role in accountability and holding governments and other stakeholders accountable. We also focus on capacity development.

It is a fact that the money that is allocated to handling NCDs is still little. How can this investment issue be addressed?

It has been estimated that the five leading non-communicable diseases, due to their indirect and direct cause, are costing $47 trillion between 2011 and 2030. These diseases are costing our population in terms of health and affordability of individuals but also in terms of our economies and societies. NCDs are costing global economy and are also being grossly neglected and yet the amount of funding going to NCDs is inadequate to address the burden. The percentage of overseas developments to health going to NCDs has remained to 1 to 2 per cent over the last 30 years. This is something that needs to change. At a country level, it’s essential for the governments to invest in NCDs, protecting the health of their populations. The case has been proved that for every dollar that you invest in WHO “best buys”, very cost-effective interventions to address NCDs prevention and control, you get seven dollars back. There is return in terms of lives saved but also in terms of dollars saved.

How does a regional conference like this help in the prevention and control of NCDs?

The NCD Alliance works at the global level and it’s very exciting for us to see that at national and regional levels, there is an emerging network of national and regional NCD alliances. These are networks where civil society organisations working on these diseases, risk factors, broader developments come together to work under a shared agenda of the NCDs. These allows them to speak to governments with one single powerful voice and there is a number of national and regional NCD alliances in the African region. We work with different alliances, mobilising towards global advocacy opportunities, but also supporting works in country. As an example, we are supporting the works of the Rwanda NCD Alliance through our NCD Alliance advocacy institute and are supporting advocacy work in NCDs and universal health coverage. And there is huge benefit in having advocates share experiences and good practices beyond borders which is why this conference is so important. We are hearing about what works, what are some of the challenges, what can be done together and how can it be coordinated. It’s important that African civil societies working on NCDs to have a powerful voice and play a role in global advocacy efforts and global NCD discussions.

What is your message to the public as a whole and to people living with NCDs?

One message will be ‘health is important and people should look after their health and wellbeing.’ It is likely that if people haven’t been affected directly by NCDs, they’ll know others that are affected. My message to the public will be about demanding their rights. It is your right to live and to be surrounded by healthy environments where making the healthy choice is the easy choice. And it is your right as well to be accessing healthcare. I’d encourage people to be actively involved and to remember there are citizenship; their rights as citizens.

For people living with NCDs, I’d say that your voice and lived experience matters. Speak up about your needs and your experiences as you navigate the health system and demand a seat at the decision-making table.

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