Getting the Politics Right for the September 2011 UN High Level Meeting on NCDs

Dr. Devi Sridhar
Research Fellow in Politics at the University of Oxford

Last October I blogged about the United Nations (UN) High-Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and just recently Peter Piot, J. Stephen Morrison and I wrote the paper Getting the Politics Right for the September 2011 UN High-Level Meeting on Noncommunicable Diseases. NCD Report

Over the past few months, we have been looking at four questions in detail and consulting with a number of experts in global health, as well as with those interested in this area through a survey conducted by the global health governance project at Oxford University. These are:

  1. What do we mean by non-communicable diseases?
  2. What would a successful UN process look like? 
  3. What is achievable in terms of deliverables? 
  4. What are obstacles that could prevent the above from happening?

Based on the information from this survey, we propose four recommendations.

First, we need everyone to be on the same page, for the purposes of the meeting, on what exactly NCDs constitute. There’s a strong case to be made for focusing on the four major health conditions: cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes, and their common risk factors: tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, harmful use of alcohol and indoor and outdoor air pollutants.

Second, we need to translate the evidence on NCDs into action for policy-makers and the general public. The problem is that while ample data is available, it often is not in an accessible or powerful format. Two organizations that tackle this problem for other health areas are the Kaiser Family Foundation and UNAIDS who generate downloadable, concise and clear policy-briefs, power points and graphs that can be easily accessed and used.

Third, quick action is required to elevate and strengthen the leadership that will be essential to preparing and delivering a successful September 2011 meeting. This requires a realistic assessment of the special constraints that are at play – such as fragmentation within the NCD community and a lack of a focal point– along with a focus on leveraging existing assets, most notably the UN Secretary General, the Director General of World Health Organization, and the recently formed NCD Alliance. A new prominent personality – for example, an interim NCD Czar, operating under a UN flag and overtly empowered to lead – would be invaluable.

Finally, clear, specific, and measurable goals should be put forward before the Meeting focused around awareness, national planning, innovative finance, regulation and cross-sectoral coordination. Tobacco control could be the engine to drive these discussions.

The full report that goes into detail on each of these recommendations is available here.  Although there isn’t much time to get the pieces in place, with strategic thinking, major gains can be made in September.

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