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Global targets bring new hope for collaborative working to tackle NCDs

There has been a sharp focus on non communicable diseases in the past year. Last year’s UN high-level meeting on non-communicable diseases [NCDs] formally recognised NCDs as a global public health priority, while last month saw the World Health Assembly (the decision making body of the World Health Organisation) member states adopt a global target of a 25% reduction in global mortality from NCDs by 2025.

The UN says that NCDs have reached epidemic proportions and are the biggest threat to public health worldwide. These diseases – including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory disease – kill in the region of 36 million people each year. It is clear that there is an urgent need to combat them.

In his address at the high level meeting in September, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said; “The prognosis is grim,” adding that the incidence rates of NCDs in developing countries now outstrips that of the developed world due to the global shift towards the consumption of processed food laden with fats, salt and sugar, while tobacco use and excessive alcohol intake continue to take their toll.

It was heartening, therefore, to hear him call on food and beverage companies to take more responsibility when it comes to marketing foods to children, saying that they must act with integrity and avoid putting profit before health. No one would argue with that I’m sure, but what came over loud and clear from the rest of the participants was the need for collaboration. This isn’t about singling out one industry as the bad guys, but a broad recognition of the requirement for international cooperation and collaboration to reduce exposure to risks including unhealthy food marketing, while increasing prevention and strengthening healthcare systems to support people with NCDs.

Hearing the words co-operation and collaboration is music to our ears. Aridhia was founded on the principle that in order to bring about real change within healthcare, a multidisciplinary, collaborative approach is vital. This is well demonstrated by our involvement in the Kuwait Scotland eHealth Innovation Network which brings together the Ministry of Health of the State of Kuwait, Dasman Diabetes Institute, the University of Dundee, NHS Tayside and Aridhia with the aim of embedding education, research, informatics and quality improvement at the heart of a programme that will transform clinical care for diabetic patients in the region, and give them more power over their own condition through community education programs.

Progress can’t be made on issues as complex as NCDs without collaboration, a threat which impacts not only healthcare systems, but also global demographics and economic development. Collaboration isn’t optional; it is vital if effective, relevant treatment and care is to be delivered.

The good news is that the World Health Assembly meeting saw members states adopt, without further discussion, this ambitious 25% mortality reduction target. This is a landmark decision. We now have a goal to work towards which encourages process to be made, and enables policy makers to be held to account. As Princess Dina Mired of Jordan put it at the UN high-level meeting, without clear targets there is neither accountability nor the will to succeed in cutting deaths.

According to the World Health Organization a basic set of strategies aimed at the treatment and prevention of cancer, diabetes, heart and lung disease could cost just over $1 per person per year. WHO’s recommendations include simple, inexpensive measures such as raising taxes on tobacco and alcohol, public awareness programmes about diet and exercise, as well as campaigns to reduce salt content and replacement of trans fats with polyunsaturated fats.

The fact is that treating NCDs becomes expensive when it’s left late. Prevention is eminently more preferable and affordable, but prevention requires not only the involvement of the individual, but also that of their governments, their healthcare providers, academia, and the private sector.

Battling NCDs is going to be a long, hard road. But the changing worlds of business and healthcare offer enormous promise, with a level of global communication and connectedness that would previously been unimaginable. By collaborating with some of the world’s leading experts in chronic disease, global business technology services and big data analytics, we hope to be at the forefront of the fight against non-communicable diseases for the sake of this generation and those that will follow.