Why We Need to Listen in September
April 27, 2011
In March 2011, the CSIS Global Health Policy Center asked bloggers around the world: What should the key priority of the upcoming UN High Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases be and why? We had a number of great submissions. Benn Grover 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.
ProCor Editor, Lown Cardiovascular Reserach Foundation
As September draws closer, the global NCD community is abuzz with news, recommendations, reports, opinions, research, and predictions for the UN High-Level Meeting. Everyone agrees, the global burden of NCDs is out of control, and the High-Level Meeting will provide an opportunity to create dramatic change. The general consensus is that we must act, and we must act now.
Instead, we should listen.
In the midst of organizations and individuals raising their voices in a collective cry hoping to influence policy, encourage research, enforce legislation, and advocate for funding, no one is listening. Eighty percent of global deaths from NCDs occur in the developing world, yet one can hardly argue this global roundtable is representative of the pandemic.
We are hearing some voices from the developing world. Through dedication, collaborations, and success, many researchers, health workers, and policy-makers from the developing world are shedding light on the true, on-the-ground burden of NCDs. They provide a needed foothold in the door; however we need to throw ourselves completely to the other side of the doorframe. What about the Ugandan community health worker who doesn’t have regular access to the Internet? Or the Guatemalan nurse who doesn’t have simple diabetes educational material? Where are the countless health workers with no resources or grant funding or international collaborations? What are their needs? Where’s their collective voice?
Make no mistake, we do need to push for global policies that rein in the NCD pandemic, but just as importantly, we need to get simple, effective, preventive solutions to the people most affected.
The counter-argument is that we need to learn from strategies that work and apply them to problem areas – and it just so happens that that most of the successful NCD prevention and control initiatives occur in the developed world. However, there’s a reason why Australia and New Zealand are so successful in implementing anti-tobacco legislation and Lebanon is not. Fifty-nine percent of the adult Lebanese population uses tobacco and 57% of adult women in Lebanon use tobacco daily – some of the highest rates in the world. How do you successfully implement policy changes in countries where public support favors the exact opposite? Or perhaps worse, where there is no infrastructure or resources?
And what of those recommendations we’re hearing that require blunt force to enact? Reducing the sodium content in foods requires a lot of money, time, legislation, and political force. How much does a computer cost? How much will it take to translate diabetes prevention and treatment recommendations into a local language? We shouldn’t throw out the big recommendations, since they are the catalyst for large-scale change, but we shouldn’t also disregard the needs of the people who are the hardest hit and have the fewest resources.
Everyone agrees the UN High-Level Meeting provides an opportunity for the global NCD community to make tremendous strides in curbing this global pandemic. That is, if we listen.