As has been said many times over, this week was momentous for cancer and other widespread chronic diseases. Not only has it been recognized that cancer is a major problem within the U.S., but that burden extends beyond our borders. Such an epidemic warrants that the world responds collectively with research, resources, and results that can save lives at risk of being cut short by cancer and other NCDs.
So, what do we do now? How do we hold parties to the UN political declaration on NCDs accountable to their commitments and ensure progress towards those goals? Here are 3 key focus areas post-summit:
- Maintain pressure on the UN.
- Track action at national levels.
- Advocate for better health investments.
The summit and declaration represent only the end of the beginning for our global NCD agenda. There is still some unfinished business, outstanding issues that need to be resolved if we are to be ultimately successful in reducing the global burden of NCDs. The most pressing issue is the setting of indicators and a framework by which WHO can measure what’s being done and where countries are still falling short. In addition, the UN must follow through on its acknowledgement of NCDs as a broader development priority and integrate related programs across its various agencies and initiatives, not only under health. This also means inserting mention of NCDs in any follow-up to the millennium development goals. There are other questions from the declaration development process that have been left unanswered, such as a code of conduct for working across public and private sectors and how to increase resources for NCDs.
Until member states reconvene to discuss NCDs in Geneva, New York, or elsewhere, there is something they can do to start addressing the burden now. A number of government representatives this week made public their commitment to fighting NCDs within their countries, and it is up to civil society to make sure those words are translated into meaningful action. Furthermore, the lack of specific targets notwithstanding, there is an overall commitment within the document that all countries develop national NCD plans before 2014, something the US strongly supports. The global grassroots movement that mobilized around the summit was impressive and effective, communicating both the problem and opportunity in a way that spurred responses at the highest level of government. We must remind those leaders that we are still watching and waiting anxiously for them to implement relevant, evidence-based policies and programs. Simple solutions exist today and heads of state have a responsibility to close the gap between what they now know will help their citizens and what they do so that help reaches them.
The question remains, after countries have done what they can with what they have, how can they do more? This is not only a question of funds for NCDs. We also need to outline sources of technical assistance and leadership to support the fight against NCDs globally. Since 2010, LIVESTRONG has been encouraging the US government to think differently about global health policy in a way that strengthens health systems to more effectively prevent and treat cancer and other chronic diseases. We plan to continue that work at bilateral and multilateral levels, leveraging key stakeholders and initiatives. While we understand that governments are facing difficult choices in a tough economic environment, we must continue discussions on how we integrate emerging priorities such as NCDs into the implementation of existing global health programs. Inherent in the global NCD movement is the opportunity to end business as usual and fundamentally change the way we approach global health in a way that is focused on patients and investment returns. The cost of inaction later is far greater than any price we pay today.
The path forward will undoubtedly be riddled with barriers and pitfalls, but we must not lose the momentum we have created leading up to this watershed moment. In addition to celebrating all we have achieved, let’s commit to working collaboratively on what is yet to be accomplished. LIVESTRONG.