Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) have become an acute global crisis these days. People from developing countries are at most vulnerable status to NCDs. When Health Ministry Additional Secretary, Dr. Palitha Maheepala stated recently that, 71 percent of the total deaths reported from hospitals were caused by NCDs, it became obvious that NCDs have become an acute problem in our country, also.
NCDs, which include diabetes, cardio-vascular disease, chronic respiratory diseases and cancers, are largely preventable, since their main risk factors of tobacco use, unhealthy diets, harmful use of alcohol and physical inactivity can all be modified. Despite this, what made NCDs to reach such epidemic proportions across our country? It is time we sit up and begin to take stock urgently.
Managing this national challenge requires collaborative solutions, involving government, civil society and private companies.
First of all, we must be bold and ambitious in setting national targets to reduce the burden of NCDs. These targets should push comprehensive and evidence-based concrete action to address the diverse and complex drivers of this epidemic. Targets should include an overall reduction in the incidence of new cases, a reduction in the prevalence of major NCDs.
Sound leadership across government to work with the full range of relevant National and International agencies will then be required to promote and implement cross-sector action to meet these targets. This will ensure a coordinated, cross-border response to NCDs. All future infrastructure development policies should be subject to health impact assessments and cross-sector food policy should address the full spectrum of nutrition-related issues both under-nutrition and over-nutrition.
Whilst specific targets to reduce deaths from NCDs may not have been achieved in the past decade, there is much to be learned from our experiences. More dedicated work is now needed to commit to reducing avoidable deaths from NCDs by 25 percent by 2025 - a target that the World Health Organization (WHO) believes is achievable.
Children are especially vulnerable and powerless. They often have no voice to advocate for their own needs, and yet they face unique challenges and have special needs. The period of rapid growth and development that occurs in childhood has a profound impact on future health and quality of life enjoyed in adulthood, and represents a 'golden window' of opportunity in terms of improving the overall lifetime health of populations and promoting rights to health for all.
It is, therefore, imperative that childrens issues are an integral part of our national NCD discourse. A predominant focus on adults will systematically neglect important opportunities to reduce NCD risk factors from the earliest possible stages. By contrast, a focus on children promotes generational and population-based change, and empowers a pro-active approach to the primary, secondary and tertiary prevention of NCDs.
Unfortunately, there is a common misconception that NCDs do not affect children, but are diseases of adulthood only. This is patently false. NCDs and their risk factors have an enormous impact on the health of children. Cancer, diabetes (both Type 1 and Type 2), chronic respiratory diseases (such as asthma), obesity, congenital and acquired heart disease and many endemic NCDs all affect children and/or start in childhood. Children and young people are often targeted by companies advertising fast food, tobacco or alcohol, and many grow up today in environments that are not conducive to them adopting healthy lifestyles (e.g. participating in sport).
A shared commitment to fight NCDs is the need of the hour