NCDs: The Social Justice Movement of Our Generation
July 6, 2011
In June 2011, the CSIS Global Health Policy Center asked bloggers around the world, Do you think it's possible to create a unified social movement for NCDs, akin to the movements that already exist for individual chronic diseases? If so, why? If not, what initiatives can we implement in the place of an effective social movement to move an NCD agenda forward? We had a number of great submissions. Dr. Jonathan D. Quick was one of our four finalists. Read his entry below and look out in the days and weeks ahead for other finalist's blogs and another blog contest on NCDs.
Co-Chair/Coordinator, NCD Action Network (www.ncdaction.org)
The AIDs movement is an exemplar of the possible – a powerful combination of leadership, a united civil society sector, and messaging that resonates ubiquitously. A social movement so successful it has galvanised global political action and strong institutional representation far in excess of any ‘objective’ proportionately to disease burden.
Is our movement – the global NCD movement – on the same path to success? As a young health professional are NCDs the social justice issue, the HIV/AIDS, of my generation? I answer in the affirmative, and we must seize the opportunities before us.
Our first opportunities are unity and passion.
The recent UN civil society hearing in New York was replete with technical and pre-scripted arguments – where was the emotive and the outrage? It was rarely evident. Before we can connect with the hearts and minds of our global leaders and world at large, we must first feel our cause. And we must feel it deeply. A social movement is won with passionate ideas, from passionate people shouting from the rooftops.
Do we challenge this pandemic because the science tells us to? No. We do so because in a world where they are preventable, NCDs are unjust. Because NCDs are a threat to human rights and dignity, and to the alleviation of poverty. Because they have a human face. Each of us must answer this question – why do I care? This is why our movement matters.
Have no doubt, NCDs are not simple. There are multiple diseases with multiple determinants, interest groups and institutions. Some might call this cacophony. But it is also an opportunity. We have strength in numbers, but to unleash our collective power we must nurture a culture of learning and mutual interdependency. We have new tools to help us. Facebook did not exist at the first UN Summit on health – we can now harness the power of social media.
Our second opportunity is symbolic.
Can ‘NCDs’ become a symbol of our times, akin to AIDs? Indeed it can. We have achieved success when our 3-letter acronym resounds with the man on the street. But first we must tell stories to generate symbolic capacity, and connect our stories with the world.
But more than this we must also offer an alternative and more positive vision for the future. Smoke free societies, nourishing food systems, alternative drinking cultures, exercise promoting places, healthful minds, and healthy children – to frame NCDs in this way is to envision success for our movement and societies at large.
Our many opportunities are young people.
The UN Summit is only the end of the beginning. We must think long-term and make investments that will pay dividends for decades to come. This is why young people are critically important. The students and young professionals of today are not only the workforce and patients of tomorrow, but also the future leaders of our movement. Not just in health, but across all relevant sectors and disciplines. Multi-disciplinary training curricula and leadership programmes are strategic investments.
The NCD Action Network is transforming these ideas into actions. We are young people, university students and concerned citizens building a global and multi-disciplinary advocacy community. We believe a social movement is not only possible but inevitable, because this is the social justice movement of our generation. And we care deeply about our cause.
Phillip Baker, co-chair / coordinator, NCD Action Network (www.ncdaction.org) and PhD Candidate at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Australian National University.