UN Renews Focus on NCDs

photo-evan-lee-thumb-300x340-486Today's guest blog comes from Lilly's Vice President of Global Health Programs and Access, Dr. Evan Lee.

The UN is holding its second-ever standalone meeting on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) this week in New York City, where world’s political leaders and ministers of health will assess progress against the UN’s landmark 2011 Political Declaration on NCDs.

This is quite a big deal for the global health community focused on these challenges full-time. Virtually everywhere we work around the world, we are faced with the devastating – and growing – impact of diabetes, chronic lung and heart diseases, and cancer. We know patients are going without access to treatment while healthcare costs continue to skyrocket. Clearly solutions are needed and we are hopeful that this meeting will quicken the pace of collaboration.

A central component of the UN’s initiative is the Global Coordination Mechanism for NCDs, or simply GCM, which aims to facilitate collaboration across sectors in fulfilling the Political Declaration. The structure and goals of the GCM are commendable and well-designed to add value, though as the NCD Alliance recently pointed out, implementation is proving quite a challenge. The collaborative spirit of the GCM in principle is in practice not making much room for meaningful participation by NGOs and private companies. 

Now don’t get me wrong; we understand the challenges inherent to working across sectors, especially on global initiatives. We have had to overcome similar hurdles in the design and implementation of the Lilly NCD Partnership (though it’s of course nowhere near as large or complex as the UN initiative). And we were fortunate to find organizations in the academic and government sectors that understand the valuable role that companies can play in solving complex global health problems – not as passive participants but as active, integrated partners. We routinely hold collaborative summits where our partners in private and public sectors come together to share data and refine our work. (Our next NCD Summit will be held in India in September.)

We can’t win the fight against NCDs without robust engagement from the private sector. The scope and magnitude of some of the changes that need to happen – such as encouraging and enabling people to adopt better diets, to exercise regularly, and to limit their alcohol and tobacco intake – will entail fundamental behavioral shifts that may well require infrastructure changes, such as accessible bike paths and sufficient open space for exercise, sophisticated communications campaigns to connect with people on emotional and social levels, and other initiatives that will be able to continually reinforce the right messages and enable individual action. Resigning the private sector to a passive role in that process not only grates against the collaborative spirit of the Political Declaration – which aims to “facilitate and enhance multi-stakeholder engagement and action” – but practically sets us up for failure.

As delegates gather in New York this week, I hope they will be fired up with a real sense of urgency. With each passing day, month and year, millions more are suffering needlessly from treatable and often preventable diseases – and it is becoming more difficult to deliver on the promises made in the UN Political Declaration. Let’s hope this week’s meeting gives way to swift, decisive and truly collaborative action.