Why are non-communicable diseases (NCDs) so important?

The global burden
According to the NCD Alliance, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) “make the largest contribution to mortality both globally and in the majority of low- and middle- income countries (LMICs). Worldwide, NCDs account for 60% (35 million) of global deaths.” Eighty percent of these deaths occur in low- and middle- income countries. These facts may be surprising but they are important to realize, especially because type 1 diabetes is qualified as an NCD.

So, what exactly is a non-communicable disease? An NCD is a medical condition that is, by definition, non-transferable or non-infectious. In other words, you can’t catch it from anyone. NCDs can be chronic (long duration and slow progression), or they can cause death more rapidly (such as sudden stroke, for example). NCDs include illnesses such as autoimmune diseases, heart disease, stroke, cancer, asthma, kidney disease, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and of course diabetes. While there is a high-level of awareness, funding, and support put towards infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS, millions of NCD patients die or suffer severe complications because their condition was un-diagnosed or because they do not have access to affordable and essential medicines, despite most of them being widely available in the Western world. Insulin is one of those medicines.

Luckily, there are organizations that are working hard to ensure that NCDs are at the forefront of the global agenda. The NCD Alliance has a plethora of resources, campaigns, and updates about where we are globally with NCDs and how we can get involved in making them a priority. So where is the world in terms of recognizing the danger and burden of NCDS? 

A brief overview:
In May 2008, the 193 Member States of the World Health Organization approved a six-year plan to address non-communicable diseases, especially the rapidly increasing burden in low- and middle-income countries. The plan calls for raising the priority given to NCDs in international development work. They also launched the Global NCD Network in 2009.

In 2010, during the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly in, a resolution was passed which called for a high-level meeting of the General Assembly on the prevention and treatment NCDs with heads of state and government. The resolution encouraged UN Member States to address the issue of NCDs at the 2010 Review Summit for the Millennium Development Goals, where it was decided that NCDs would be included in the final outcome document and made a key issue in the post-2015 development framework.

In September 2011, the UN hosted its first General Assembly Special Summit on the issue of NCDs. The Political Declaration from the summit meeting contained no global time-bound targets or goals for NCD prevention or treatment, but many individual governments made commitments to tackle NCDs, ranging from implementing National NCD plans and policies for prevention and control, to increasing surveillance and monitoring, to establishing treatment centers and pledging more financial assistance.

The NCD Alliance also celebrates the adoption of a target to reduce premature mortality by 25% by 2025 at the World Health Assembly (WHA), which will be held again in May 2013. To learn more about how the NCD Alliance is taking NCDs forward on the global development agenda, including in the post-2015 process click here.

What is taking so long?
The success of ensuring NCDs priority status has been monumental, but there is still a long way to go. Solid commitments and worldwide recognition of the absolute necessity of accessing essential medicine and technology to diagnose and treat NCDs is still sparse. Governments must recognize the importance of tackling NCDs but they also need to understand them so that the best possible preventative measures and treatments can be accessible to all.      My fear is that misconceptions about diabetes and other NCDs lead to the belief that many non-communicable diseases are self-inflicted or can be prevented solely though a change in lifestyle, thus making them less of a priority. While this may be true for some NCDs, we know that Cancer can attack the healthiest of individuals and the reason behind destruction of beta cells causing type 1 diabetes is still unknown.

Let’s do our best to educate our family, friends, and co-workers about type 1 and NCDs so that the idea of non-communicable diseases being just as high-priority as fighting HIV/AIDS can become a reality.

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