What is an NCD anyway?

Peter Mills , 21 Sep 2011

Dr Peter Mills

This week in New York there is a high level UN summit on non-communicable diseases, or NCDs as they are being called for short.

You'd be forgiven for looking rather quizzical and asking what on earth an NCD is.

The answer is pretty much any chronic disease that is not caused by an infecting organism; cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancers and chronic respiratory diseases all fall into the broad definition. What is quite interesting is this is the first global health related UN summit since the 2001 meeting on AIDS, so it seems that they're serious about trying to do something about the ever increasing prevalence of chronic diseases across the world.

The facts are actually quite concerning; some 63% of all worldwide deaths are due to NCDs, and although we cannot claim to have eradicated infectious diseases such as TB, malaria and cholera, these, for the first time, are not at the top of the list of world killers. I wait to hear what the great and the good from the world's major economies have to say on the subject.

My fear, however, is that this may just be another talking shop with plans put forward that no-one will enact because of the dire global economic situation. If I were to give one piece of advice to the delegates it would be to break down the silos between healthcare provision and healthcare financing. If, as we are lead to believe, the summit will advocate a greater responsibility for businesses in tacking the issue of NCDs then this cannot be done without some form of "carrot" or recognition. We cannot expect business to do their part, but not reward them.

If we are truly serious about reversing the trend in lifestyle related disease then we have to work in partnership. If company X puts in place a worksite health management programme they should be rewarded on outcomes. The question then is how should they be rewarded? The obvious answer is some form of tax break - if as a nation we do not put our money where our mouth is, so to speak, then we will only see the forward thinking few implement such worksite initiatives and we will continue to inexorably slide into costly ill-health related oblivion.

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