Why isn’t there a movement for non-communicable diseases?

That’s the question posed by Jake Marcus, a post-bachelor fellow at the UW’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, in The New Republic. As Marcus notes:

(Non-communicable diseases, or NCDs) cause over 60 percent of the world’s deaths, yet, up to this point, the development community has largely neglected them.

The NCDs include such killers as cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes or depression. Because of their collective health impact, there’s a big push on right now in the global health community to make NCDs as high a priority as HIV, malaria or tuberculosis. In September, the UN is holding a major summit aimed at creating a new international movement to fight NCDs.

Don’t hold your breath, suggests Marcus. He describes a number of reasons why these diseases won’t be ranked high on the list of global health priorities. such as:

  • They are (mistakenly) viewed as mostly of concern for affluent nations
  • They are less compelling emotionally
  • They require a wide range of interventions

I think that last one is the most critical problem here. The reason NCDs require a wide range of interventions is that, simply, they aren’t really a coherent category of disorders.

The first clue that this is a bad category is that diseases are included based largely on what they are not — non-communicable.

There are legitimate arguments to be made for incorporating into the global health and development agenda many of these diseases. But they probably need to be made separately.

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Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org, follow him on Twitter @tompaulson and/or send a comment below.