Annually, 41 million people worldwide die from noncommunicable diseases, or NCDs, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory diseases and mental disorders. Approximately 85% of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), where 15 million people ages 30 to 69 die prematurely. Limited access to treatment, essential medicine and diagnostic technology also contribute to NCD disability and death in LMICs.
In 2015, NCDs were brought to the forefront of the global development agenda with the inclusion of Sustainable Development Goal 3 (SDG 3), which calls for a one-third reduction of premature mortality from NCDs by 2030. Although many countries are developing effective approaches to NCDs, most countries will not achieve this target.
The United States has responded to the rising profile of NCDs in recent years, beginning with the first United Nations High-Level Meeting on NCDs in 2011 and again in 2018 at which member states affirmed commitments to address NCDs and associated risk factors.
As we enter the final decade of action for the SDGs, U.S. leadership will be essential to addressing NCD prevention and treatment, and their associated risk factors.
Incorporate statutory language into future Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations bills addressing NCDs. Hold the U.S. Agency for International Development accountable for integrating NCD interventions across existing global health programs. Encourage other U.S. agencies to expand their health programs and messaging to address NCDs.
Integrate NCD-related objectives into existing health programs and platforms, to increase access to sustainable and cost-effective interventions. Examples include smoke-free pregnancies and screening and treating pregnant women for hypertension, gestational diabetes and cervical cancer.
Coordinate U.S. investments in global health to enhance achievement of SDG 3.4 in LMICs by addressing the growing, long-term threat presented by NCDs. The U.S. government should work closely with ministries of health and other regional partners around the world to address NCDs by setting clear health targets consistent with SDG 3.4 and by requiring transparency and accountability from all stakeholders.
Establish a public-private advisory group that would provide guidance for the U.S. government’s global effort against NCDs. Leverage civil society’s expertise to provide input into U.S. planning and development efforts.
Photo Credit: Medical IMPACT
NCDs affect all countries and present a rapidly expanding worldwide public health and development crisis. NCDs in LMICs are plunging families into poverty, damaging productivity, threatening economic growth, further straining health budgets and health systems, and putting very substantial U.S. corporate and global health investments at risk. NCD-related deaths outnumber those caused by HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in U.S. priority countries and are draining the economic strength and social capital of major U.S. partners in trade and development. Communicable diseases and NCDs influence and risk the progression of one another, as we have seen with the COVID-19 pandemic. Barring intervention, the NCD problem will only increase in the future. Prevention interventions — which target modifiable risk factors, promote healthy living, and support effective treatment, education and quality care — will continue to be the best ways to reduce NCDs. Unfortunately, these efforts are often some of the most challenging for implementing organizations and U.S. government agencies, as positive results are difficult to quantify. Therefore, Congress should work alongside civil society and U.S. global health agencies to determine the most effective methods for reducing and responding to NCDs.
The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic poses significant risks for those who are living with or affected by NCDs. As we have learned more about COVID-19, it has been discovered that this virus can have devastating effects for those living with NCDs. Further, mental health services for children, adolescents and caregivers who have been affected by COVID-19 must be included in the ongoing and future response. The U.S. will need to lead a coordinated global effort to address NCD-related complications of the COVID-19 pandemic.
NCD Roundtable members, ncdroundtable.org
The NCD Roundtable is a diverse coalition of more than 70 civil society and private sector organizations working in partnership with multisectoral stakeholders to advance the prevention and control of NCDs through policy, communications and program engagement with the goal of improved health and well-being.
HEADER PHOTO CREDIT: PAI/Sala Lewis
Nurse at St. Raymond Clinic.