World Health Assembly Offers Opportunity to Integrate NCDs into Pandemic Responses
Testing blood pressure as part of NCD prevention.

The upcoming World Health Assembly (WHA) has the biggest focus on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in a decade – and offers an opportunity to ensure that NCDs are integrated into future responses to pandemics and other health emergencies.

This is according to Katie Dain, CEO of the NCD Alliance, who urged attendees at a high-level NCD briefing before the WHA on 22 May, to highlight solutions in order to encourage countries that it is possible to address NCDs.

This comes in the wake of statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) NCD Progress Monitor 2022 that show COVID-19 has pushed back countries’ gains against cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes in particular.

WHO’s NCD Progress Monitor

Bente Mikkelsen, the WHO’s NCD director, said that 70-90% of the 14.9 million “excess deaths” recorded during COVID-19 were likely to be people living with NCDs.

“Most governments now recognise that people living with NCDs are among the most vulnerable,” said Mikkelsen – but added that NCD treatment needed to be assured during humanitarian disasters.

“The United Nations Office for Coordination Humanitarian Affairs estimated 235 million people needed humanitarian assistance and protection last year, and we know that there it is as much as two to three times more common to have heart attacks and strokes in humanitarian emergencies than in pre-emergency circumstances,” said Mikkelsen.

The WHO is supplying NCD kits to 10,000 people in Ukraine, and the NCD team was now part of the daily coordination of the response in that country, she added.

“There is no health security without including NCDs into primary health care, into universal health care,” she concluded.

NCDs as part of new pandemic instrument

Precious Matsoso, Co-Chair of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body on a pandemic instrument

Dain said that the current negotiations in Geneva on an instrument to address future pandemics offered the opportunity to “link NCDs to health security and pandemic preparedness”.

She called for a broader definition of health security that took into account the underlying burdens caused by NCDs.

Precious Matsoso, who is co-chair of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body that is negotiating the WHO’s new pandemic preparedness instrument, appealed for simpler implementation guidelines for countries.

Matsoso said that there were at least five major conventions relating to NCDs as well as a number of high-level agreements – and it was “not practical” for countries to implement all of these.

“We need one instrument to integrate all these into a comprehensive response,” said Matsoso, who is South Africa’s former Director-General of Health.

She cited five main pillars to ensure a comprehensive response to NCDs, including proper governance, NCD prevention, adequate financing, and meaningful community engagement.

New Presidential Group offers political leadership

Kwaku Agyemang-Manu, Ghana’s Minister of Health

Political leadership to address NCDs was gathering momentum, following the launch last month in Ghana of a Presidential Group and NCD Compact, Ghana’s health minister, Kwaku Agyemang-Manu, told the briefing.

“The compact is expected to provide the framework for the successful management and control of NCDs,” said Agyemang-Manu, who also outlined Ghana’s $110million plan to address NCDs.

“The compact is a turning point in our fight against NCDs. It will galvanise action to ensure the support from heads of state have committed to closing the implementation gap to address the prevention and control of NCDs,” said the minister.

Agyemang-Manu, Dain and the University of Washington’s David Watkins stressed that it was still possible for low- and middle-income countries to reduce the burden of NCDs by one-third by 2030.

Watkins and colleagues recently published a paper in the Lancet outlining how this could be achieved.

“There’s a widespread belief in the global health and development community that tackling NCDs is too expensive and that it isn’t feasible in countries with very limited resources. Our report thoroughly debunks this idea,” says Watkins.

The paper focuses on 21 interventions – both clinical and policy-based – to reduce NCD-related mortality, which is the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 3.4.

Image Credits: NCD Alliance.

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