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NCD summit: Progress made but more focus on treatment and care needed

03 Oct 2011

Campaign for better access to healthcare in ArgentinaHelpAge and our partners have been active in recent months making the case for the better inclusion of ageing and older people in the growing debate on non communicable diseases (NCDs).

The UN Summit on NCDs in New York on 19-20 September was the critical moment for rallying our efforts with others.

HelpAge was represented by global ambassador Alex Kalache, HelpAge USA's Policy Director Bethany Brown and myself. The proposals on the table had the potential to help shift the behaviour of millions of people to healthier lifestyles and provide much needed healthcare, treatment and support.

Great interest in the issue

The issue generated great interest, evident from the attendance of 34 heads of state or governments, as well as lobbying groups, including over 600 NGOs. No fewer than 120 Member States spoke in the plenary sessions.

This was only the second meeting of its kind to begin action on a global health issue, following the UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV and AIDS in 2001, which led to the creation of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

NCDs no longer "diseases of affluence"

During the summit, governments, both from the developed and developing world, pointed out that addressing NCDs is a development issue, since poor health and poverty are closely linked.

There was general agreement that NCDs can no longer be considered "diseases of affluence". In many countries, the poor are especially at risk, due to poor diet and exposure to degraded environments. In one round table, the World Bank representative called for strong country-level responses, but also emphasised that such responses need global support.

The member states adopted the Political Statement unanimously. Due to lobbying efforts by HelpAge and ten other partners (notably Alzheimer's Disease International, AARP, IFA and the International Caregivers Network) in recent months, it includes some important new dimensions.

Ageing now recognised as driver of NCDs

There were some key issues on which progress was made:

  • Ageing is now recognised as a key driver of NCDs, with active steps called for to address people's health needs across their life course.
  • The relevance of mental and neurological diseases, including Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, is now recognised.
  • The Political Statement demands equitable access for all, including older people, to prevention programmes and health care interventions.
  • The need to scale up palliative care and support provision is also acknowledged, alongside preventive and curative measures for NCDs.
  • Health policies, the Statement stipulates, should focus on preventable morbidity and death without setting arbitrary age limits for "premature death".

No focus on treatment or care

There are serious downsides, however:

  • The summit did not reach agreement on additional funding or other resources to combat NCDs (though Russia and Australia have made pledges individually). 
  • As yet, there are no specific mandatory targets or indicators relevant to any age group, including older people, but the WHO has at last been requested to design progress indicators.
  • In New York, debate focused on prevention targets, but paid much less attention to issues of treatment and care for those already suffering chronic illness. This has potentially serious consequences for older people, both as givers and receivers of care.

The progress evident in the Political Statement is welcome. Now we need to follow up with action to ensure that national NCD plans and programmes fully include older people.

What you can do

  • Do you think older people in your country face discrimination in getting treatment for cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and dementia? We'd love to hear from you - leave us a comment below or post on our Facebook page.
  • Keep up to date on how our campaign is going by signing up for our eNewsletter.
  • Read this edition of Ageing and Development (1.1mb) which includes more stories on older people and non communicable diseases.

Your comments

Dr. Asma Badar

Well I think some obvious dent has been put in this connection.So great job done. When I was engaged with emergency program at HelpAge in Pakistan, I kept on shouting for mangement and treatment of NCDs especially in older people and with all the annoying faces they accepted it in the end as a big gap in emergency reponse...... see the problem is that in countries like ours, caught under double burden of disease where a meager health budget is allocated every year, and with in poorly performing health system, the out of pocket payment on NCDs is pushing the poor in to vicious poverty traps..... the change they want to see in the shape of MDGs is far from their expectations.....

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Author profile

Mark Gorman
Country: U.K
Job title: Director of Strategic Development

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.