NEW YORK CITY — Arguably the biggest health challenge the world is facing today is non-communicable diseases (NCD), according to a panel of experts who spoke at the Clinton Global Initiative on 24 September 2013 in a segment discussing the importance of early detection and prevention of these diseases. The panel included Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General at World Health Organization, Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, President and CEO at Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Adrian Gore, CEO at Discovery Holdings Limited who provided different perspectives on the subject of NCD prevention, but agreed that it was not only possible, but necessary for the future of global health.
Non-communicable diseases, like heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes, are currently the leading cause of death on every continent (except Africa, which is expected to join this statistic by 2016), causing 36 million deaths annually, 14 million of which are before the age of 70, according to Chan. He also emphasized that 100 percent of these are “totally preventable,” and, if not addressed, will eventually make the cost of health care unaffordable. To avoid this, the governments of both developing and developed countries need to provide an enabling environment for preventative measures like tobacco control, improved life styles and regular exercise.
Lavizzo-Mourey agreed and added that other important preventative measures should include analyzing the living environments outside hospital walls. These investigations can improve the quality of overall care people receive at hospitals and from their health care providers.
Gore expanded on this concept by suggesting that overall behavior change is necessary to establish a preventative attitude in patients, as well as in health care institutions. Incentives, like subsidies for healthy eating habits, can encourage this type of change.
However, preventing NCD is not only the responsibility of the individual. Several companies have begun to manufacture and sell “better-for-you” products, and according to Ms. Lavizzo-Mourey, a study has found that these companies have enjoyed better profits, better reputations and higher values for the shareholders. Communities also need to get involved by providing easy-access choices, like cross walks and bicycle lanes, to encourage a healthy life style. Thus, for prevention to work, a comprehensive collaboration across all sectors of society needs to exist.
Metrics like the body mass index (BMI) and surveys ranking communities’ and countries’ health system performance may also cause changes in individual and country-specific behaviors. When calculations indicate that an individual’s “health age” is actually higher than their birth age, it can catapult that person to change their life style; community rankings can serve as motivations for leaders to create better environments for their residents; and country rankings may lead to increased transparency and accountability, especially in a world driven by social media. Chan said, “What gets measured, gets done.”
According to Chan, developed countries have fared better at addressing this concern than the developing countries have. But at the root of success are governments who can provide a national plan to grow resource capacity and financial ability to identify diseases causing problems, introduce quality intervention, and provide early diagnosis and treatment. She stressed that not addressing these issues will cause a $30 trillion loss in productivity worldwide over the next 20 years.
– Yuliya Shokh