Next week, in New York City, the United Nations is holding a big meeting that could affect the future of global health.
If all the gab actually translates into policy changes and action, it could redefine global health in a fairly significant way.
In an apparent attempt to scare off normal people from paying any attention, it’s called the UN High-Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases (aka NCDs). I’ll be there, joining a group of journalists granted fellowships to attend from the UN Foundation (which got money for this from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation).
A lot’s going on next week in New York — the UN General Assembly (to which it has been reported Iranian President Ahmadinejad will be bringing gifts this year as well as his usual rants), the Clinton Global Initiative, a new media confab called the Social Good Summit and the poorly named meeting on global health focused on this poorly named category of diseases.
But don’t let the words, or acronyms, fool you. The NCDs are big killers, much bigger than that virus in the current blockbuster movie Contagion could ever hope to be.
Global health has tended to focus on contagious or infectious diseases like AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and the like. But non-communicable disease (NCDs) like cancer, stroke, diabetes, heart disease and lung disease (i.e., tobacco use) kill many more people around the world than infectious diseases.
If you don’t believe me, here’s WHO can tell you about it: Non-communicable diseases are the top cause of death worldwide.
A plethora of news stories and scientific reports have been published leading up to the meeting next week, most of them basically saying the same thing — that the NCDs are big killers and deserve more attention on the global health agenda.
I’ve selected five that I believe provide key reasons — whether explicitly or implicitly — for paying attention to this meeting with the bad name:
- We don’t all agree on what we mean by global health. An op-ed by the UW’s David Watkins and Jim LoGerfo in the Seattle Times.
- Learn from success and failure in the global response to AIDS. An essay by leading AIDS experts in the Public Library of Science online journal.
- Expanding the scope of global health doesn’t have to cost more. Amanda Glassman at the Center for Global Development.
- The biggest fight may not be against diseases, but industry. Reuters reports on concerns raised by many health organizations that commercial interests will “hijack” and distort the meeting.
- It’s not just about disease, or even health. Though still somewhat focused on their own interests, a group of health organizations (like PATH) along with some water, sanitation and hunger groups say what’s needed is an integrated attack on poverty. Partners in Health says so as well.
See you next week, where I hope to have lunch with Ted Turner, kid around with Ban ki-Moon, maybe play saxophones with Bill Clinton and report on the attempt to redefine global health.