Countries Falling Behind In Meeting Noncommunicable Disease Control Targets

Governments are falling behind in the battle against a “global epidemic” of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), say two new reports by the World Health Organization and the NCD Alliance, launched on the first day of a Global NCD Alliance Forum in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.

Many countries are stalled in implementing basic prevention policies, such as reducing tobacco and harmful alcohol consumption; promoting health eating and physical activity; and strengthening early NCD detection and treatment in primary health care systems, according to the WHO NCD Progress Monitor 2020 report, released Monday. Such policies are among the so-called WHO “Best Buys” for NCD prevention.

Only 19% of 194 countries surveyed have fully implemented tobacco taxes; just 20% are meeting targets for salt-reduction, and one-third of countries are providing basic NCD health services such as drug therapy and counseling.  And less than half of the 194 countries surveyed met at least two of the ten targets that would reflect progress against NCDs – a “grim sign” as the report calls it.

Speakers of the opening plenary at the Global NCD Alliance Forum

“Countries are still failing to meet basic indicators. If they continue on this path then millions of people will die needlessly from heart attacks, stroke, diabetes, cancers, and respiratory disease.” said Ren Minghui, assistant director-general for Universal Health Coverage, Communicable & Noncommunicable Diseases at WHO in a joint press release, issued with the NCD Alliance at the Global NCD Forum.

According to the WHO report, about a quarter of all countries also do not have a national NCD plan in place, and one-third of all countries lack time-bound national targets to drive and monitor progress in the overall Sustainable Development Goal of reducing deaths from NCDs by one-third by 2030.

Data from the second report, the NCD Alliance’s Bridging the Gap backs up this stark reality. The report, based on surveys of national and regional NCD alliances, found that only 20 percent of members believed that their country is on track to meet global NCD targets. Some 82% of members did not believe their country had sufficient accountability mechanisms to ensure NCD targets were being met.

“This report confirms what we’ve long suspected – that the United Nations targets aimed at reducing NCDs are not bearing fruit on the ground,” said CEO of the NCD Alliance Katie Dain. “Unless the gaps in the response are addressed, we’ll be faced in 2030 with a tsunami of disease-related impacts, both human and economic, that could have been avoided.“

NCDs account for over 70% of all deaths worldwide. An estimated 41 million people die from NCDs such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes and respiratory illnesses every year.

5 Major Gaps Impeding Progress

The Bridging the Gap report points to gaps in five major areas that are impeding progress – political leadership, investment, care, community engagement, and accountability.

The report found that political commitment to NCDs at the country level is low – only Brazil and Turkey have implemented all five of the tobacco demand reductions measures from the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control for example. Additionally, while domestic financing in NCD control is increasing in some places, international funding for NCDs remains a paltry 2% of total multilateral aid for health.

Only about a third of all countries provide drug therapy and counseling to prevent heart attacks and strokes, and just 40% of countries provide palliative care in primary healthcare or in the community.

“We know what works — primary health care, with its emphasis on promoting health and preventing disease, is the most inclusive, effective and efficient way to reduce premature mortality from NCDs and promote mental health and well-being,” said Minghui.

The report also finds that countries are lagging in engaging communities of people affected by NCDs, and creating independent, civil-society led accountability mechanisms for monitoring progress on reducing NCDs. These measures, the report says, are crucial to push forward action on political promises for NCD control.

“The evidence before us is indicating that we need to move well beyond the health sector to really make a dent in the epidemic. We need to address the root causes of NCDs, in the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe and the conditions in which people live, work and play,” said Minghui.

Image Credits: NCD Alliance/Gilberto Lontro, NCD Alliance.