“Wednesday (October 10th) is World Mental Health Day,” VOA News reports, noting, “The World Health Organization is using the occasion to call for an end to stigma against those who suffer from depression and other mental disorders” (DeCapua, 10/9). Depression affects 350 million people worldwide, with nearly five percent of the world’s population suffering from depression annually, according to Medical Daily (Tucker, 10/9). More than three-quarters of people living with mental health disorders reside in developing countries, BBC News notes, adding, “According to the World Health Organization (WHO), eight in every 10 of those living in developing nations receive no treatment at all” (Roberts, 10/10). The WHO “warns stigma is a huge problem that prevents many people from seeking help,” VOA writes (10/9).
Non Communicable Disease/Chronic Disease
“A new way to screen poor women for cervical cancer was introduced this month in El Salvador, using a test that was originally developed in China,” the New York Times reports. “The new test, called careHPV and made by Qiagen, a Dutch company, is a swab test for the DNA of the papillomaviruses that cause cancer,” the newspaper writes, noting a study published in the Lancet Oncology in 2008 found the test “was more than twice as sensitive” than the alternate method of “shining a light on the cervix and painting it with vinegar, which reveals precancerous lesions that can then be burned off with liquid nitrogen or carbon dioxide.” According to the New York Times, “The test worked even when women inserted the swabs themselves, which can be done at home and so is easier and faster than having them go to a clinic for visual inspections” (McNeil, 9/24).
“Some academics and non-profit organizations are skeptical of the motives of the increasing number of multinational companies who seek partnerships to address non-communicable diseases (NCDs),” Derek Yach, senior vice president of global health and agriculture policy at PepsiCo and former head of NCDs at WHO, writes in the Huffington Post’s “Impact” blog. He asks, “So how well is the private sector doing in tackling the rising pandemic of NCDs, which cause nearly two out of every three deaths in the world (80 percent of those in developing countries), the four main ones being cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes?” He continues, “The private sector is a major stakeholder in many ways — as employers; makers of food and medicines, sports gear and technology; as corporate citizens and consumers — and wants to be engaged in the global NCD dialogue. We deserve a seat at the table.”
Noting this week marks the first anniversary of the U.N. High-Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), a Lancet editorial states, “The meeting was a crucial step for putting diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease high on the global health agenda. However, little action, other than more talking, has been taken since.” The editorial continues, “The key positive development of the past year was the goal to reduce preventable deaths from NCDs by 25 percent by 2025 passed by the World Health Assembly in May,” but “[t]he challenge now is how to meet it.”
“If left unaddressed, [non-communicable diseases (NCDs)] will lead to more death, disability and the implosion of already overburdened health systems in developing countries at huge cost to individuals, families, businesses and society,” Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and former UNAIDS executive director, writes in the Huffington Post “Impact” blog, adding, “Like AIDS, NCDs are a problem for rich and poor countries alike, but the poor suffer the most.” He continues, “The 2011 U.N. High-Level Meeting on NCDs — only the second time the U.N. had convened a major meeting on a health issue, following the U.N. AIDS Summit in June 2001 — was a landmark event in the short history of the fight against NCDs but was not a tipping point. Much more remains to be done.”
On the one-year anniversary of the U.N. High-Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), two blogs examine what has happened since. In the Center for Global Development’s (CGD) “Global Health Policy” blog, Victoria Fan, a research fellow at the center, and Laura Khan of Princeton University ask, “[W]here has the attention and commitment to NCDs gone?” They say “subsequent attention and action after the NCD Summit last year has been paltry,” and they explore some reasons why this might be the case (9/19). In an interview on the Council on Foreign Relations blog, Thomas Bollyky, senior fellow for global health, economics, and development, says, “So on one hand, the U.N. NCD meeting hasn’t yet managed to follow the HIV/AIDS blueprint in producing a groundswell of popular support, new donor resources, and concrete country action. On the other hand, optimists on this issue believe the U.N. meeting elevated a long-neglected cause to the heads-of-state level and firmly established it as an ongoing concern for the U.N.” (Johnson, 9/19).
Noting that “[n]on-communicable diseases (NCDs) kill four times the number of people in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) that they do in high-income countries,” Benn Grover, a health communications specialist who manages policy for the National Forum for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, and Felicia Knaul, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and director of the Harvard Global Equity Initiative, write in the Huffington Post Blog, “The right to health of the majority of the world’s inhabitants is severely hampered due to vast inequalities in access to care and many of the social rights that determine their health. These inequalities are not just a matter of health, but issues of social justice and human rights.”
NPR’s “Shots” blog examines efforts to reduce cervical cancer deaths in Botswana, noting that “in Africa and other impoverished regions, few women get pap smears because the countries lack the laboratories and other resources necessary to offer them.” Ricky Lu, an obstetrician-gynecologist with Jhpiego, which is associated with Johns Hopkins University, “is promoting a cervical cancer screening technique in which a nurse or a midwife simply swabs a woman’s cervix with vinegar (or diluted acetic acid) and then looks with the naked eye, or a magnifying glass, for pre-cancerous lesions,” according to the blog. “The screening technique requires only vaginal spoons, vinegar and a bit of training” and “can be performed in the simplest health clinics without a need for laboratory tests or even electricity,” the blog writes, noting, “At least six countries in Africa have now adopted the technique as part of their public health care systems, and it’s also caught on in Thailand and parts of Asia” (Beaubien, 9/18).
“As world leaders make their way to New York this month to attend the United Nations General Assembly, we call on them to renew their commitments to combating non-communicable diseases (NCDs),” Jill Sheffield, president of Women Deliver, and Nalini Saligram, founder of Arogya World, write in the Huffington Post “Global Motherhood” blog, adding, “Tackling NCDs with a woman-centered focus is a critical step towards reaching all development goals.” They continue, “The solution to curbing NCDs and maternal mortality ultimately rests in improving women’s access to strong and capable health systems.” In addition, “[t]eaching women about NCD prevention by promoting healthy lifestyles will result in women not only changing their own lives, but also steer their families and entire communities towards healthy living,” they state, adding, “Educated and empowered women can work to build a healthier, more sustainable world and lift families out of poverty.” Finally, “[i]t’s also important to look at new solutions and technologies,” including clean cookstoves, Sheffield and Saligram write.
“The non-communicable disease [NCD] community always talks about the importance of prevention; many consider it the Holy Grail in the fight against NCDs. Why was it so hard to also accept treatment as part of the solution?” Princess Dina Mired, director general of the King Hussein Cancer Foundation in Amman, Jordan, asks in the Huffington Post “Impact” blog, noting only one target of the 2011 U.N. High-Level Meeting on NCDs “deals with treatment, the target on ‘essential medicines and basic technologies for treatment.'” She continues, “Treatment and prevention are heavily interrelated. The success of one is directly related to the other.” She adds, “A person in the developing world will not buy in to the importance of prevention if there is no treatment option available should that person get the disease.”