Bridging the gap at global forum on NCDs

The Global NCD Alliance Forum aims to convene, unite and mobilise NCD civil society. The focus of the third biennial forum was: ‘Bridging the gap’: looking to accelerate global efforts to turn policy and commitments into action for people and communities most affected. PCI’s Jane Lennon attended the event, representing the UK Working Group on NCDs: one of the global NCD Alliance’s newest members. Hear from Jane on her experience and highlights.

“Day 1 of the Forum began for me with a little bit of jetlag, a lot of excitement, and a measure of apprehension thrown in: had I chosen the right workshops; would I be able to make the most of the three days I was there; and was I going to be able to get my morning coffee fix?!

Well I didn’t succeed in fully fighting the jetlag but on the other counts I needn’t have worried. The workshops I went to were interesting and energising; the days were full of opportunities for learning, sharing and meeting up with other delegates from around the world; and of course there was plentiful coffee and tea – and fruit too!

It’s hard to know what from the Forum to fit into one short blog. A good overview can be found, unsurprisingly, on the NCD Alliance’s own site.  There were various reports and initiatives launched, such as the WHO’s NCD Progress Monitor 2020, and ‘Turning the Tide’: 26 films from 24 countries focusing on communities affected by NCDs, produced by BBC StoryWorks and the NCD Alliance.

For me, some of the key highlights/learnings were:

Meeting up with others working on NCDs around the world. For example it was great to talk with a member of the Afghanistan NCD Alliance, and we discussed the NCD training that PCI carried out in Kabul for the World Health Organisation a year and a half ago. He had connected with me through the very useful Forum app, with the assistance of the networking expertise of the global NCD Alliance team!

The risk of dying from an NCD between the age of 30 and 70: huge disparities between rich and poor countries.

Reinforcing the fact that there is an increasing focus globally on preventing and managing NCDs but there is still a long way to go. Influential and wide-reaching organisations such as UNICEF are seeing the increasing burden of NCDs in communities they work with, and both adjusting their programmes and adding their voice to national and global advocacy work. Yet at the same time we are hearing from the WHO’s newest scorecard that little progress has made since 2015: not a single country meets all their indicators. Dr Ren Minghui, Assistant Director General for UHC/Communicable & Noncommunicable Diseases, WHO, spoke of the importance of primary care and of a multisector response to address this gap[1]:

‘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. But 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.’

There is a growing focus on ensuring we include mental health when addressing NCDs. Something we have been increasingly hearing from our partners at PCI, for example in our work with WHO supporting Libyan clinicians.  I attended a workshop at the Forum on this subject and participants spoke passionately about the need to fully integrate support for mental health into primary healthcare systems. The key take-away point for me was to remember that poor mental health can be a ‘stand-alone’ NCD – but can also be due to the effect of another NCD: again stressing the need for an integrated approach.

Namuddu Veria, a patient at a healthcare centre in Uganda

Given the number of different networks, civil society and private sector organisations at the forum another key message was that partnership is key. The workshop I attended on ‘Equitable access to essential NCD medicines and technologies’ really highlighted this. Again, the importance of NCD care being available at the primary healthcare level was stressed. Multi-stakeholder approaches can work – but need to ensure they always have the patients’ best interest and sustainability at their centre.

And last, but certainly not least, of my highlights: the overarching message was that meaningfully including the voices of people living with NCDs is the key to a successful response.

Wearing both my PCI and UK Working Group on NCDs ‘hats’, we look forward to building on the momentum from this Forum: innovating and advocating to bridge the gap between policy and practice in resource poor settings.

I’ll end with a quote from the closing ceremony, shared by Ms Cajsa Lindberg, Our Views Our Voices advocate from Sweden, that really stuck in my mind and sums up a lot of the discussions and energy from the Forum:

‘Without passion nothing happens; without compassion the wrong things happen’.