This year, the United Nations General Assembly will hold a high-level meeting to undertake a comprehensive review of the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases. This unprecedented emphasis on NCDs reflects both the seriousness of the problem and the urgent need for international action. According to the World Health Organization, NCDs — particularly cardiovascular diseases, cancers, respiratory diseases, and diabetes — kill 41 million people each year, equivalent to more than 70 percent of all deaths globally. The NCD Alliance contends that low- and middle-income countries are hit the hardest, with 86 percent of premature NCD deaths occurring in these nations. Despite this data, NCDs receive less than 1.3 percent of development assistance in global health budgets.
The NCD challenge is rising on the agendas of governments and prominent international development organizations, including WHO, U.N., bilateral aid agencies, and philanthropic foundations. While NCDs were not covered in the Millennium Development Goals, they are directly addressed in the 2030 sustainable development agenda and linked to a variety of specific goals and targets. Across the world, international donors, civil society, and the private sector are collaborating on solutions and systems aimed at relieving the burden of NCDs. Yet, due to the scope and complexity of the problem, we have a long way to go to bring NCDs under control. Global health professionals acknowledge that effective NCD management requires attention and investments across several key areas from awareness to prevention, diagnosis, treatment and palliative care. They also recognize there are gaps and imbalances across this spectrum that impact how both the public and private sectors should respond.
In recent years, more attention has been paid to preventing NCDs (e.g. healthier lifestyles by discouraging tobacco and alcohol, and promoting physical activity) and treatment of NCDs (e.g. access to medicines), but intervention opportunities in the space between prevention and treatment are often misunderstood and underinvested.
Nearly everyone agrees that early detection and diagnosis are critical to bring down costs of NCD treatment, but the majority of low- and middle-income countries are challenged to design and implement comprehensive programs to detect NCDs early on and expand access to reliable and definitive diagnostics in conjunction with adequate treatment programs.
With these challenges in mind, Devex and Philips set out to examine the specific role that early detection and diagnosis plays in the fight against NCDs. We surveyed over 1,200 health professionals and interviewed over a dozen NCD experts to understand where and how early detection and diagnosis fits into effective NCD management. Across both the survey and interviews, we found a global health community that was energized about tackling NCDs and in agreement that we must transform today’s conversation into meaningful action. They are also enthusiastic over the potential of early detection and diagnosis, but believe it must be viewed as part of a larger, integrated system that requires sustained support from a wide-range of funders, implementers, and practitioners.
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