International public health leaders and practitioners gathered last week at the 38th annual Global Health Council Conference at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C. This year’s theme was entitled “Securing a Healthier Future in a Changing World” with the focus on non-communicable diseases.
According to the World Health Organization, the four main non-communicable diseases include cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic lung diseases and diabetes, and are on the rise, with the developing world hit the hardest. Tobacco use, poor diet, harmful use of alcohol and physical inactivity are among the four main lifestyle risk factors.
At the closing plenary of the global health conference last Friday, speakers focused their remarks around the growing challenge of addressing these non-communicable diseases particularly in low- and middle- income countries.
Dr. Felicia Knaul of Harvard Medical School and a cancer patient herself urged us to think of these not as “non-communicable diseases” but rather playing off the acronym NCDs, as what she dubbed as “new challenge diseases”—as they should be communicated and brought into our conversations.
Dr. Howard Koh, Assistant Secretary of Health, spoke about the need for action now, and how the health of an individual is inseparable from the community. He stressed how we are all interconnected and the need for partnerships from different sectors in tackling these challenges. He emphasized the important role prevention and public health initiatives, referring to the positive steps we have made in this nation with the passage of the Affordable Care Act. He also lauded the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign, addressing the problem of childhood obesity. He also stressed that we need to compliment, not compete, with other development priorities.
All speakers agreed that the cost of inaction against NCDs is too great. We must “agitate, educate, integrate and congregate,” encouraged Dr. Knaul. New innovations, partnerships, investments, strong leadership and simple preemptory lifestyle changes are essential for making inroads against NCDs.
The United Nations General Assembly will be conducting a High-level Meeting Sept. 19-21, 2011 to discuss the current state of play with non-communicable diseases around the world, and develop better international community initiatives with the goal of saving millions of lives against these epidemics. Not only do NCDs take lives, but also put an immense burden on a country’s economy leading to lost productivity.