Tar­get­ing non-com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Around the world, one of the ma­jor fac­tors de­stroy­ing lives and ham­per­ing eco­nomic growth is also one of the hard­est to ad­dress. Non-com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases (NCDs) – such as heart dis­ease, di­a­betes, and can­cer – now ac­count for two-thirds of all deaths world­wide. In ad­di­tion to cut­ting lives short, NCDs ex­act a mas­sive eco­nomic toll on their vic­tims, their fam­i­lies, and their com­mu­ni­ties, sap­ping eco­nomic pro­duc­tiv­ity and driv­ing up med­i­cal costs. Over the next two decades, the to­tal eco­nomic losses from NCDs could top $30 trln.

Ad­dress­ing the com­plex chal­lenge posed by NCDs will re­quire a co­or­di­nated in­ter­na­tional ef­fort. For­tu­nately, there have been some im­por­tant re­cent steps in that di­rec­tion. In Septem­ber, the United Na­tions adopted the Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals, a set of 17 ob­jec­tives that will guide the global de­vel­op­ment agenda for the next 15 years. Along­side tar­gets like elim­i­nat­ing poverty and mea­sures to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment is a com­mit­ment to re­duc­ing mor­tal­ity caused by NCDs – the first time the UN’s of­fi­cial de­vel­op­ment agenda has taken di­rect aim at the prob­lem.

This is a welcome mile­stone, but it is only the first of many on a long road. The phys­i­cal and eco­nomic bur­dens as­so­ci­ated with NCDs fall the hard­est where they are least easily borne: low- and mid­dle-in­come coun­tries, where 80% of NCD-re­lated deaths oc­cur. Mil­lions of peo­ple who have re­cently es­caped poverty could be pushed back into it as a re­sult.

The at­ten­tion and peer pres­sure gen­er­ated by the SDGs can help drive progress. But achiev­ing the tar­gets will re­quire sus­tained fo­cus, draw­ing on the re­sources and ex­per­tise of gov­ern­ments, in­ter­na­tional non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tions, and, cru­cially, the pri­vate sec­tor.

My ex­pe­ri­ence in the health sec­tor has led me to con­clude that two im­por­tant fac­tors will prove cru­cial in ad­dress­ing the chal­lenges posed by NCDs. Progress will de­pend, first and fore­most, on craft­ing ef­fec­tive lo­cal ap­proaches that can be adapted, repli­cated, and scaled up. There are no one-size-fit­sall so­lu­tions to prob­lems like di­a­betes or heart dis­ease. But, given that NCDs af­flict com­mu­ni­ties in all parts of the world, there is much com­mon ground that need not be con­tin­u­ally re­dis­cov­ered.

In 2013, for ex­am­ple, the Car­los Slim Foun­da­tion con­ducted a rig­or­ous base­line as­sess­ment at eight pri­ma­rycare clin­ics to un­der­stand the state of di­a­betes preven­tion and treat­ment. Based on the data gath­ered dur­ing the study, the Foun­da­tion pi­loted what is known as the CASALUD model to im­prove screen­ing, treat­ment, and preven­tion us­ing low-cost, user-friendly de­vices that can mea­sure a range of rel­e­vant vi­tal signs, in­clud­ing blood glu­cose lev­els. Par­tic­i­pat­ing clin­ics have been equipped with an online sys­tem to track drug in­ven­to­ries and avoid short­ages.

The ap­proach was so ef­fec­tive that Mexico’s health of­fice is us­ing the CASALUD model as the ba­sis for its na­tional cam­paign to fight obe­sity, which can fuel di­a­betes and other NCDs – a great ex­am­ple of scal­ing up based on lo­cal ex­pe­ri­ence.

The sec­ond key to suc­cess in the fight against NCDs is a com­mit­ment to tap­ping the re­sources of the pri­vate sec­tor. This in­cludes not only the mo­bil­i­sa­tion of pri­vate in­vest­ment, but also the de­ploy­ment of the vast amounts of tech­ni­cal, op­er­a­tional, and lo­cally tai­lored ex­per­tise that pri­vate com­pa­nies have gained in the course of do­ing busi­ness around the world. By form­ing part­ner­ships with gov­ern­ments and in­ter­na­tional and lo­cal or­gan­i­sa­tions, com­pa­nies can help re­duce the im­pact of dev­as­tat­ing and costly dis­eases.

I know this be­cause my com­pany is in­volved in just such an ef­fort: the Lilly NCD Part­ner­ship, in which we are co­op­er­at­ing with part­ners and the gov­ern­ments of In­dia, Mexico, South Africa, and Brazil to tackle NCDs. In Brazil, for ex­am­ple, we are work­ing closely with key lo­cal or­gan­i­sa­tions, in­clud­ing the Fed­eral Univer­sity of Rio Grande do Sul, to im­prove dis­ease preven­tion – with a fo­cus on help­ing moth­ers who were di­ag­nosed with ges­ta­tional di­a­betes while preg­nant and are now at risk of de­vel­op­ing type 2 di­a­betes.

Pro­grams like ours demon­strate what can be achieved through sub­stan­tive, lo­cally driven public-pri­vate part­ner­ships around the world. En­sur­ing the suc­cess of the SDGs – in­clud­ing the re­duc­tion of mor­tal­ity from NCDs – will re­quire com­pa­nies to move be­yond tra­di­tional phi­lan­thropy and forge cre­ative so­lu­tions to so­cioe­co­nomic prob­lems. If we recog­nise that in­no­va­tion stems from un­der­stand­ing lo­cal con­di­tions and op­ti­mis­ing the vast re­sources of the pri­vate sec­tor, we can en­sure bet­ter health – and more rapid eco­nomic growth – far into the fu­ture.

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