This piece was first published on the Global Health Council website.
During the last week of January, the WHO’s Executive Board held its 138th meeting, bringing together Member States, multilateral agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and thought leaders. Reserved for late Friday afternoon during the week-long meeting, the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) was finally brought to the table as a specific agenda item.
Most striking was not only the lack of progress against the nine voluntary global NCD targets adopted by Member States in 2012 – the Secretariat’s report showed that since 2010, the probability of dying from an NCD has been reduced by only 1% – but also the significant lack of data to monitor progress against these targets. Seven of the nine targets are currently missing baseline or 2014 data.
It was not surprising then that nearly all Member States who chose to speak during the NCD session pointed to the urgent need to improve data systems to monitor the burden of NCDs and more effectively track progress against national NCD targets.
“Without adequate data it becomes difficult to formulate clear actions and illustrate progress,” Namibia stated on behalf of the 47 AFRO member states. “For African members states it is widely acknowledged that there is a lack of data on NCDs and their risk factors in Africa.”
Brazil made a specific request to WHO to “invest in the quality and validation of data monitored, the standardizing of surveys and reporting and the methodology and instruments used,” for NCDs calling this critical for the successful preparation for the third high-level United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) meeting on NCDs in 2018.
Establishing national data systems for NCDs is an essential step; however, it is equally critical that international collaboration focus on establishing implementation evidence on how to effectively address NCDs, particularly in health systems which have largely been focused on acute care. We do not have the luxury of waiting for comprehensive national data systems to be established before designing, testing, and implementing interventions to prevent and control the growing burden of NCDs.
WHO’s decision to update Appendix 3 of the Global NCD Action Plan 2013-2020, which contains a menu of policy options and interventions which are classified as “best buys” for the prevention and control of NCDs, will be an important contribution. However, given the dearth of implementation evidence for NCDs, particularly in resource-limited settings, governments, NGOs, and the private sector will need to form new, dynamic partnerships if we are to meet the goals set out by the Global NCD Action Plan.
As WHO convenes government NCD heads in Geneva in February for the first time, it is an important moment to more concretely discuss how progress in increasing access to NCD care can actually be achieved on the ground. As the AFRO representative stated at the 138thBoard meeting, “the time to act is now.”