October has been a jampacked month for international conferences and meetings. Now we return to one of the recent engagements of IFMSA – the 62nd session of the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific held in Manila last October 10-14, 2011. In this blog entry, Kai-Yuan Cheng (Kyle) from Taiwan and Maria Lioni Kusuma Tatang from Indonesia share their thoughts about the second day of the meeting, which focused on the WHO regional budget and non-communicable diseases. At the end of the vignettes is the intervention on NCDs which was drafted by the IFMSA team and distributed to all participants of the meeting.
Following yesterday’s intensive discussion on WHO reform, the committee discussed today the budget of the previous and the next bienniums. It is not surprising that some of the points raised during the discussion on WHO reform were re-mentioned, since one of the purposes of the reform is to reduce unnecessary costs in operations.
The afternoon session is rather unique. There are several governmental officials and social activists who shared about successful programmes on NCD control and prevention. One of the inspiring projects came from the World Heart Foundation. WHF is one of the four international organizations that established the NCD alliance, which advocated the inclusion of NCDs in the global health agenda. The alliance also worked on tackling NCDs in partnership with industry players. Such a successful case of cooperation between NGOs and industries has interested several national representatives in WPRO.
One of the speakers in the panel gave a reminder: “Private sectors should have no role in policy decision, but they can have big roles in policy implementation.” This poses a challenge to governments, as they strive in building intimate alliances with the private sector while they struggle in maintaining their neutrality and staying away from potential conflicts of interests.
Reflecting on my country’s experience on NCDs, I can say that as of now, Taiwan has not yet been doing pioneering work. We have several prestigious enterprises which I believe possess the capability as well as the awareness to contribute to solving health issues such as NCDs. I hope my country will maximize the potential of cooperation between the public and the private sectors as we combat the forces that lead to NCD morbidity and mortality.
The second day of 62nd Session of WHO WPRO Regional Committee has indulged me with extremely important discussions. The morning session allowed us to see how budgeting is conducted and implemented in WHO Regional office.
The WHO Regional Secretariat explained that lack of technical expertise in managing the budget as well as the earmarking of voluntary contributions by some Member States and other donors remain as some of the challenges in the financing of WHO. Currently, only 20% of the money comes from Member State contributions, while the rest relies on earmarked voluntary donations from some Member States, health foundations, and private enterprises.
Next big agenda for the second day is non-communicable diseases. The segment started with an address from the Regional Director, reminding the participants about the profound urgency of shifting commitments to NCD control and prevention into tangible actions. The Malaysian Ministry of Health then gave a presentation about their approach to NCDs.
The discussions emphasized that continuous monitoring and surveillance, together with consideration of social determinants of NCDs, are critical issues that WHO has been trying to address at the global level. Advocacy and partnerships related to NCDs within the health sector and with other non-health agencies are also of vital importance. It is essential to note that most NCDs occur in low and middle-income countries, and therefore leadership, funding, and alliance-building for action on NCDs should be focused on these countries. Another critical aspect of NCDs that must be tackled carefully is the ethical relationship of NCD actors with the private sector.
I realized that we medical students can and should take an active part in the prevention and control of NCDs. IFMSA can contribute in building the evidence base for action, as well as in allowing transfer of best practices from successful countries and communities to others that are still struggling with the NCD burden. Every deed, big or small, counts!
Medical Students’ Perspective on
Item 13. Non-communicable diseases
The evidence on the global burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) cannot be ignored. Two of three deaths each year are attributable to NCDs, while four-fifths of these deaths are in low-income and middle-income countries. A new report from the World Economic Forum and Harvard School of Public Health estimated the cumulative output loss due to NCDs at US$ 47 trillion, representing 75% of global GDP in 2010.
The Western Pacific Region cannot turn a blind eye on NCDs. One report from WPRO stated that around 25,000 people die every day from NCDs in the region. Recently, a Lancet article reported that NCDs accounted for nearly 60% of the total deaths in Southeast Asia.
We laud the WHO Western Pacific Regional Office for its efforts in creating regional collaboration for action on NCDs. Such a regional strategy is needed now more than ever, as NCDs are a challenge not just of some countries, but of all nations. But we also hope to see WHO’s leadership in inspiring action on NCDs from other sectors aside from government, including civil society, private enterprise, and the academia. NCDs cannot be truly addressed if we do not tackle the sources of food we eat, the availability of open spaces for exercise, and the regulation and ultimately eradication of tobacco products, to name a few.
The IFMSA is also committed to combat this major health challenge of our generation. For the past sixty years, our Federation, a unique network of 106 medical students’ associations from 99 countries, has been teaching communities about diabetes prevention, holding events that promote physical activity, and giving comfort to cancer patients of all ages.
Last September 19, coinciding with the United Nations High-Level Meeting on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases, our Federation commemorated the “IFMSA Day of NCDs.” During this event, medical students from around the world organized roundtable discussions, educational fora, and community activities, as well as utilized social media such as Facebook and Twitter in spreading awareness of the global burden of NCDs to the general public.
Finally, we remind the WHO and Member States to not isolate NCDs from the more encompassing discussion on health systems strengthening, health equity, and action on social determinants of health. For example, evidence shows that it is the world’s poor that are more susceptible to smoking behavior, and therefore smoking-related disease and death. A WPRO report on the link between poverty and NCDs showed that more severe outcomes for the poor from NCDs are not only caused by greater risk behaviors and increased incidence of disease, but also from their inability to access or afford preventative services and treatment.
It is very timely that after the UN Summit on NCDs, the next important global health meeting will be the WHO World Conference on Social Determinants of Health. Next week, IFMSA will also be present in Rio to remind the global health community that action on social determinants of health will not just provide us protection from NCDs, but from all diseases as well.
A world that is safe from NCDs, infectious disease, pollution, poverty, and social inequities – that is a healthy world.
Ramon Lorenzo Luis R. Guinto (Regional Coordinator for the Asia-Pacific), Maria Lioni Kusuma Tatang, and Kai-Yuan Cheng in behalf of the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA) on the occasion of the 62nd session of the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, October 10-14, 2011, Manila, Philippines