WHO Dialogue on NCDs, poverty & Development Cooperation


Cancers, diabetes, heart and lung diseases threaten the lives of millions of people worldwide. The economic impacts on households and health systems are so large that, especially in low- and middle-income countries, NCDs pose major poverty and development challenges.

More than 12 million deaths from noncommunicable disease (NCD) occur between the ages of 30 and 70 in developing countries, which constitutes one of the major challenges for development in the twenty-first century. Premature deaths from NCDs in developing countries undermine social and economic development, threaten the achievement of internationally agreed development goals and may lead to increasing inequalities within and between countries and populations.

The World Health Organization has, for the first time, brought together philanthropic foundations, NGOS and the private sector to explore ways to include noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) in post-2015 development cooperation agendas and initiatives, internationally agreed development goals, economic development policies, sustainable development frameworks and poverty reduction strategies.

“The weak capacities in developing countries to tackle NCDs result in premature deaths from NCDs, reduced productivity, curtailed economic growth, and trap the poorest people in chronic poverty,” Ambassador Taonga Mushayavanhu, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Zimbabwe to the UN in Geneva.

Reducing both poverty and the number of people dying prematurely – before the age of 70 – from NCDs was the focus of a high-level strategic dialogue held on 20-21 April 2015 in Geneva by the WHO. This Dialogue on NCDs, poverty and development cooperation was one of the meetings part of the WHO Global Coordination Mechanism on Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases  (GCM/NCD), where IFMSA as organization with official relations with WHO was invited to take part as a representative of the voice of young people in face of the worldwide epidemic of NCDs and for this occasion represented by the Liaison Officer for Public Health issues Arthur Mello.

The WHO GCM/NCD was established in response to the 2011 UN Political Declaration on NCDs, its scope and purpose is to facilitate and enhance the coordination of activities, multi-stakeholder engagement and action across sectors at the local, national, regional and global level to prevent and control NCDs in line with the WHO Global NCD Action Plan 2013-2020.

The Dialogue engaged Member States, other United Nations agencies, and representatives from academia, NGOs and the private sector in the first-ever dialogue on tackling the connected issues of NCDs, poverty and development cooperation.

IFMSA contributed to the dialogue raising the importance of an explicit focus on youth to achieve the objectives of the Global NCD Action Plan 2013-2020. Highlighting that the prevalence of NCDs is related to unhealthy behaviors and practices typically initiated in adolescents, which will have a direct effect on their risk of developing NCDs later in life. Building a healthier future depends on effective interventions during this critical window of opportunity.

Another important topic addressed by IFMSA was the necessity of improvements on the analysis of risk factors among youth, once this can give us more resources about their future influence on the burden of NCDs and help governments to develop more policies and programs focused to mitigate those risks and promote healthy lifestyles.

Although NCDs affect many young people from different parts of the world and with different realities of access to health, most prevention measures are not targeted towards this age group. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the young people from the present are the ones who are going bear the consequences of inefficient actions on the burden of NCDs in the future.  IFMSA will continue to advocate for effective measures towards the relation NCDS/Youth in all NCDs policy discussions and make sure that we are all following a safe and healthy path.

Entry written by Arthur Mello, IFMSA Liaison Officer for Public Health Issues. Contact him at lph@ifmsa.org. 

1000 insatiable leaders, tackling the world’s biggest challenges, unite in an African capital

By Dr. Alessandro Demaio
Originally published in The Conversation.

If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.

Defining words by Ghandi, this quote acts as a mantra by which I live my life. A reminder everyday of the importance to act, not just talk. To rally and react, not just offer rhetoric, and to embody the best we can be.

Yet few times has this quote been so poignant, as this last week.

In Tunisia to speak at the global conference of the International Federation of Medical Student Associations (IFMSA, the worldwide body that represents doctors-in-training), I was surrounded by young health leaders ‘walking the walk’ towards a better world. Some 1000 young emerging visionaries from all over the planet, who came to a small, seaside town outside of Tunis to discuss humanity’s greatest challenges, connect to form a powerful new cohort of change and develop effective solutions for a healthier tomorrow.Listening in and watching these remarkable young people, I wanted to share some reflections; some observations from the thousand-strong there – for all young people thirsty for change.

Four key lessons from these emerging leaders.

1. They’re inspired, not overwhelmed

Yes, there are some big global challenges ahead and there’s no doubt we’re against the clock. But being paralysed by fear or overwhelmed by the enormous tasks of mitigation is a waste of both time and energy. Cyclical conversations about the gravity of Climate Change or our major health issues will never lead us in the direction we must move and likely lead to less, rather than more action.

Keeping a clear head, and keeping an eye on what we all want – this is essential for achieving the movement we require in the time it must occur.

Something these young leaders seemed to knew all too well.

2. They’re focused on the future, not the past

Reflection is important; and reflecting on the decisions we and our leaders have made to this point in Global Health history is even more important. Taking the time to look back and digest the path we travelled, if only to avoid making the same mistakes and to inform the context of current challenges.

The danger is, that we spend too much time looking back, and not enough of our energy focusing on the future. That we focus only on the past, and lament the poor and sometimes reckless decisions that have lead us down the path of environmental and health peril, instead of looking at the opportunities we still have and the important cards we hold.

With a buzz of optimism in the Tunisian air – these young people had their sights firmly focused on the road ahead.

3. They’re not putting off until tomorrow what they can start today

Something I hear over and over, is the perception that things will be somehow easier or more opportune to tackle tomorrow. That the political, social or cultural context will somehow alter and correcting the course of our ‘Titanic’ will become simpler.

This is not going to happen. In fact, things are only likely to become harder. Looking at these emerging leaders – they were under no such illusions.

4. Simply starting the conversation is a respectable first step

Despite what I say, it’s not always easy to see the ‘end game’. Climate Change, for example, is a massive and complex problem – but like all problems, solutions must start with a simple conversation. The worst thing that can happen, is that issues such as the environment or rising social inequality become taboo topics and conversation-killers. Avoided rather than debated. Starting a conversation, whilst it may seem simple and a long way from an answer, is an essential beginning and a commendable, necessary move.

Never underestimate the power of social dialogue.

A duo of dares for the not so young.

For those with a little more experience on their side and years of wisdom under their belts, maybe the same advice doesn’t apply. But in the context of this inspiring group last week, I would make two pleas.

A duo of dares.


The first one relates to your years of experience. I hear over and over again, when I interview global and local leaders, that a major catalyst in their lives has been strong mentors. People who have taken the time to lend ongoing advice, shown interest and who ‘have their back’. Personally, this has been essential in my short career so far.

So my first urging to those with experience, wisdom and a little grey hair – reach out and mentor leaders in the ranks below.


The second call – rally behind young people such as these, who dare to stick their heads above the proverbial trenches. There were a lot of incredible young people there last week in Tunisia, and as someone who regularly gets to meet inspiring emerging leaders – I can say that we have a lot to be optimistic about. But the reality is that much of society’s wealth, power and decision-making rests with you. In 2014, as a new generation of visionaries put up their hands, be ready to throw your support behind them and catalyse some meaningful change.

Signing off from Tunisia.

In short, we all have a crucial role in social change for a healthier future. What was clear last week, is that these young leaders ‘got it’. If we can spread this inspired thirst for change, and engage those in power to take this group seriously, we might just start to see the progress we so desire, on the big issues at hand, on a scale that is necessary.

Dr. Alessandro Demaio
Australian Medical Doctor; Postdoctoral Fellow in Global Health & NCDs at Harvard University
On twitter | NCD Free on Facebook

Youth voices must resonate

The IFMSA delegation to the 4th open working group on sustainable development goals co-wrote a statement on behalf of youth and medicals students around the world, which you can read below.

I am a young medical student and am speaking here today on behalf of the United Nations Major Group of Children and Youth, and as a proud member of the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations, which represents 1.3 million future physicians in over 100 countries.

I would like to address today a few comments, remarks and suggestions on the on-going meeting regarding the engagement of youth in the post-2015 process and the sustainable development goals, especially regarding the health discussions.

Where does youth fit in a post 2015 world?
Almost half of the world’s population is under the age of 25, which means there are too many of us to ignore. We, the youth, know how to communicate with each other and to make sure that our different voices are equally heard. We are the generation that grew up with social media, we are the generation of instant sharing. We are the MDGs generation, but the SDGs will help us give the future we want to the generations to come. We need clear mechanisms to participate in and contribute to sustainable development. A vibrant and politically engaged youth is necessary because after all, it is our generation that will ensure that the SDGs are achieved.

What do we, the youth, wish to see in the post-2015 world, how can we contribute?
This is a good question, and I hope to talk through some answers. We call for equal access to high-quality education that will equip us to be a part of a sustainable society. We call for decent green jobs that will give us the capacity to create our own opportunities. We call for universal social protection to support the most vulnerable amongst us, while empowering us to drive change. We call for inclusion of sexual health education in all primary school curricula. We call for education and empowerment of women and girls so they may in turn continue to strengthen their families and society.

We must stop thinking of health as medical interventions alone. The Health in all Policies approach emphasizes that all policy domains impact and are impacted by health.  Good health is both an outcome and a determinant of successful development policy. We commend many countries for their statements on health system transformation towards Universal Health Coverage and non communicable diseases. We call for health-sensitive indicators throughout the sustainable development framework. Funding, accountability and governance for health will all follow from strong indicators and targets. The post-2015 development framework must address inequality within and between countries. We need better data to meet the needs of marginalized and vulnerable children and youth. These populations must be a priority in the sustainable development goals.

I am a physician in training and by 2015, I will be a graduated doctor. I will contribute to the healthcare of the young people we are discussing. I wish for equitable health access for the people that will become my patients, and for their quality of life to allow them to be productive members of society. During my medical training I have seen obese nine year-olds with high blood pressure, women my age with young children but no home, and refugees suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. We are the first generation with a lower life expectancy than our parents, mostly because of the burden of noncommunicable diseases, while we also clearly understand that we are likely to see a rise in infectious diseases because of globalization and climate change. We have resources unavailable to many members states, but the problems we face have universal roots in inequity. The solutions, we hope, are also universal.

Health plays a critical role in the sustainable development agenda. We ask each of you to commit to ensuring inclusion of health issues within your country’s SDG implementation.  Healthy youth are engaged youth, healthy human beings are active citizens. This is why we all need to engage today as a team for the future we want. Youth need your wisdom and expertise; you need our vibrancy, perspective and creativity. This process will be a failure if youth are not fully engaged and health. Youth voices are critical in the design of goals to promote equity and health in a post-2015 world. You will find us to be energetic, professional and full of new ideas, but we need your help to access the process.

Youth voices must resonate within the United Nations walls.

Claudel P-Desrosiers, Kimberly Williams, Neil de Laplante, Mike Kalmus-Eliasz, Anneleen Boel, Rispah Walumbe and Gerald Makuka.

Contributed to by AMSA-USA: Laura Bertani and Aliye Runyan, M.D.