Non-Communicable Diseases as a Development Priority, WHA68

By Ian Dibble
The sixty-eighth World Health Assembly has put forth a great deal of panels and experts to address the global concern regarding Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). The message is becoming clear to countries that by acting now to not only treat, but to prevent NCDs, the economic advantages such as having a healthier and longer living workforce can materialize.The challenge is in how to create innovative solutions to improving health systems in rich and poor countries, as well as the culture surrounding some of the goods that cause NCDs like tobacco and sugar. Service delivery in hospital-based health care systems is difficult compared to a primary care model. Countries may not have the economic toolkits to accurately tax the appropriate goods to fuel the models addressing NCDs. There is no one vehicle for funding NCD programs and a holistic approach to health and culture should be considered.

There are many important agenda items at this year’s World Health Assembly, and without an end to the Ebola crisis many health ministries in Africa may not have the capacity to prioritize NCDs. The global community has the opportunity to test the effectiveness of NCD programs across rich and poor countries to provide evidence based solutions for all Member States, so that when they need to access NCD models they are available. Governments need to be challenged and held accountable for their respective NCD issues in an increasingly urbanizing world.

Universal health coverage is one of the Sustainable Development Goals of 2015, and to fund this goal the health systems within nations must be sound. NCDs like hypertension and diabetes may not qualify as national security issues, but they can cripple the structure of a health system trying to sustain itself. Pre-payment health care plans can improve indicators and encourage people to get check-ups from their doctors and prevent NCDs. Technologies are improving and it is feasible to monitor and track the success of NCD programs. Viewing NCDs as a development issue will help convince governments to invest in models aiming to prevent chronic illness. Pay as you go health plans do not provide incentive to patients who could prevent serious illness by a few simple visits to their physician.

A one-size-fits-all approach will not be sufficient to address the global problem of NCDs. Every country has a different economy that will need a tailored model to tackle their respective NCDs. What is universal is the need for a variety of evidence based prevention programs that will ensure the capacity countries need to protect their people from NCDs. This is an exciting topic there is no better place to strike while the iron is hot than the sixty-eighth World Health Assembly.