The Director’s Corner

The Director’s Corner

Dear colleagues,

During the recent 68th World Health Assembly in Geneva, I had the opportunity to speak at various side events about the pandemic of non-communicable diseases – and the role of The Union and our partners in the NCD Alliance in tackling this enormous public health challenge.

The Union has long been involved in addressing non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as asthma and child pneumonia, and risk factors, such as tobacco use. However, as the burden of these diseases has shifted from developed countries to low- and middle-income countries, making them the leading killer responsible for 35 million deaths each year, we have stepped up both our activities and our commitment.

Five years ago, The Union joined the World Heart Federation, The Union for International Cancer Control and the International Diabetes Federation as a principal partner in the NCD Alliance (NCDA) with the mission to combat the NCD epidemic by putting health at the centre of all policies. Since then, additional key partners have come on board – Alzheimer’s Disease International, the Framework Convention Alliance and Management Sciences for Health – as well as 2,000 nongovernmental organisations in 170 countries.

Since then the advocacy efforts of this powerful alliance have generated global attention and increased action on this critical issue. NCDs are now recognised as a major cause of poverty, a barrier to human development and a global emergency; and a global response to NCDs, including a global plan, targets and coordination mechanisms are in place to accelerate progress on NCDs.

In this past year alone, much has been accomplished. The UN High-Level Review and Assessment
on NCDs in July 2014 was a milestone that brought together the UN system and civil society at UN Headquarters. NCDA was the leading civil society voice throughout the UN NCD Review process, ensuring active civil society participation and inputs.

Similarly, our partnership with The Lancet NCD Action Group, which launched NCD Countdown 2025 in July 2014, has been a critical tool that connects academia with civil society to track progress on NCDs in some of the countries with the highest burden. It also provides the academic depth necessary to seek accountability at the national level.

Since its inception, one of NCDA’s primary campaign objectives has been the inclusion of NCDs in the successors to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – and many of our recommendations have been taken up. An overarching goal on health is included, underpinned by nine health targets, including a standalone target on NCD premature mortality. In addition, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is included as a “means of implementation” target.

Over the past two years, NCDA has increased its focus on supporting national action. Currently, the NCDA is coordinating a network of 28 national NCD alliances and 4 regional NCD alliances. These alliances are providing valuable platforms from which to advocate for improved coverage of NCD interventions, patient empowerment and stronger health systems.

The Alliance will also be holding the first-ever Global NCD Alliance Forum in November 2015 in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, wife of the Ruler of Sharjah, has been announced as the Forum’s Ambassador as part of her commitment to fight cancer and NCDs. We expect the Forum to be a landmark event, bringing together representatives from the network of national and regional NCD alliances.

These achievements are remarkable, and It is unquestionable that the NCDA has proved to be an effective convener of stakeholders with diverse agendas across diseases. Our role and contribution are widely acknowledged and appreciated.

Yet, as the Chair-Elect of the NCD Alliance Steering Group, effective in September, I will focus on further improving the impact of the NCDA by strengthening the Alliance’s organisational capacity, expanding our partnerships, working with new alliances, building capacity at the national level and engaging in more effective mobilisation of resources.

For example, addressing the wide-ranging NCD pandemic effectively will require:

  • Creating linkages with other health and development agendas and stakeholders from areas as diverse as maternal health, nutrition, climate change and food security
  • Collaborating with advocates for universal health coverage (UHC), since they have a stake in controlling NCDs
  • Stating unambiguously that no progress on NCDs is possible without substantive progress on tobacco control
  • Nurturing national alliances so they can become effective agents of change as governments develop, implement and finance national plans to reach 2025 targets
  • Ensuring that the voices of patients living with NCDs are heard throughout the process
  • Effectively mobilising resources and support at both the national and global level.

In September, UN Member States will adopt the final agenda for post-2015: these Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will influence the course of both health and development over the coming decade. Through its work with the NCDA, The Union is demonstrating its commitment to influencing this agenda so that it best meets the health challenges faced by low- and middle-income populations and brings health solutions for the poor.

José Luis Castro
Executive Director, The Union
Chair-elect, The NCD Alliance Steering Group