A Global Focus on Non-Communicable Disease


Handicap International representatives attended the United Nations Non-communicable Disease Review in New York from July 10 to 11. Antony Duttine, Handicap International’s Rehabilitation Advisor in Global Health, reports from New York.

For the second time in its history, United Nations representatives felt that a health issue warranted a High Level meeting. Non-communicable diseases are conditions that cannot pass from person to person, such as heart disease, bone and joint conditions, or mental health conditions. NCDs are a leading cause of disability worldwide and heavily contribute to the rising prevalence of disability. The United Nations hasn’t held such a focused meeting on a health issue since a similar meeting on AIDS in 2001.

While non-communicable diseases are often considered to be health challenges in richer countries, the truth is that 80% of non-communicable diseases occur in low- and middle-income countries. Focus has largely been on the main four killers—heart disease, diabetes, cancers, and respiratory illnesses—and the main four global risk factors—smoking, drinking, food and diet, and lack of physical activity.

In Handicap International’s programs, staff are seeing a greater number of people affected by these health conditions. Handicap International’s rehabilitation programs, for example, commonly treat and support people who have had strokes. Our goal is to help manage their conditions, and return our beneficiaries to their best possible levels of functioning.

Handicap International’s delegation had mixed feels about the meeting’s outcomes. On the one hand, we are happy to see NCDs receive the kind of global attention and consideration on an international stage that they really warrant. Much of the focus is, rightly, on how to prevent people from getting these health conditions in the first place.

However, is has been disappointing to see little to no attention given to the lives and wellbeing of those who are already affected by these conditions. Handicap International released an official statement in response to the meeting’s outcome document, and advocates will continue to push for more attention and resources to ensure that people who live with NCDs have access to the health and rehabilitative care that they need to stay healthy and active and to reduce the likelihood of permanent disabilities.