Non communicable diseases

We live in an aging world, in which better public health has resulted in longevity. By 2030, those over 60 will outnumber those under 15, with the fastest growth in the developing world.

However, this demographic change has led to an epidemiological transition. The predominance of infectious diseases is shifting to non communicable or chronic disease.

Non communicable diseases (NCDs) include a range of chronic conditions, including cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, as well as Alzheimer's and other dementias.

They are commonly thought of as "diseases of affluence". But in reality, four-fifths of deaths from NCDs are in low- and middle-income countries and older people in developing countries are particularly at risk.

Older people excluded

Two years ago, 130 UN member states agreed to hold a UN summit on NCDs in September 2011. This focus on NCDs is welcome, but the disproportionate impact that NCDs have on older people in strikingly absent from much of the dialogue around the summit.

This is despite the fact that global ageing is recognised by the World Health Organisation as the first of four drivers of NCD predominance in developing countries.

The invisibility of older people in the NCDs debate highlights how ageing populations are marginalised in development. We are working to ensure that older people are heard and included on the NCDs agenda in September.

What we want:

  • All people, regardless of their age, to be included in strategies on detection and diagnosis, prevention, management and treatment.
  • The use of discriminatory language and concepts relating to older age in the NCDs debate to be challenged.
  • Strategies against NCDs to recognise that including older people in prevention, promotion, management and care strategies will substantially reduce the health costs arising from rapidly ageing populations.
  • Diseases prevalent in old age, ranging from blindness to Alzheimer's disease and other dementias to be urgently addressed.
  • Governments to ensure the right of older people to primary health care offering prevention, diagnosis and treatment, as well as home and institutional care services.

What we have achieved so far:

  • Recognition by NCD Alliance that older people should be visible in language of summit. The Alliance had previously said that NCDs were not diseases of "the elderly" despite the fact that 75% of deaths from NCDs occur in over 60s.
  • Joined forces with partners in the UK to get ageing and Alzheimer's disease included in a UN summit on Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs).
  • Mobilised supporters to write to UN calling for summit to be relevant to all ages.
  • Hosted a meeting on dementia and ageing with key UK policy makers.
  • Collaboration with the NCD Alliance to promote a whole 'life-course' approach, inclusive of older people in the summit's outcomes.
  • HelpAge global ambassador Baroness Sally Greengross hosted a meeting, with Alzheimer's International and International Longevity Centre UK, on dementia and ageing with key UK policy makers. A report will be available shortly and will be submitted to the UK delegation.

What we will do next:

  • On 16 June we will attend a Civil Society "interactive hearing" at the UN in New York. This will be an opportunity to influence the document of potential outcomes. We will work with Alzheimer's Disease International, International Longevity Centre UK and the International Palliative Care Alliance to promote ageing, dementia and care as key unaddressed issues ahead of the September summit.
  • Prepare a report with recommendations for UK government delegation to the summit.

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