Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as cardio-vascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, respiratory diseases and mental illness, are the leading causes of death and disability in the world. More than 15 million people under the age of 70 die annually, the major part in low- and middle- income countries. People who are living with NCDs also have increased risk of becoming severely ill or die from Covid-19.
“The NCD crisis has been ongoing for several decades. The death toll is rising year by year. NCDs are often chronic diseases, resulting in high health costs for individuals, families and societies. As is often the case, people in vulnerable situations bear the heaviest burden,” said Ulstein.
Norway launched the strategy “Better Health, Better Life” to combat non-communicable diseases (NCDs) as part of the international development assistance last year. The Norwegian government has decided to allocate an additional NOK 1.2 billion (app. USD 133 million) to this work from 2020 to 2024.
“Non-communicable diseases is one of the world’s greatest health threats, preventing us from reaching Sustainable Development Goal number one: No poverty by 2030. Not only can poverty increase the risk of death and disability from non-communicable diseases, but we also know that developing an NCD increases the risk of falling into poverty,” Ulstein said.
The strategy has three main points: Strengthening primary health care; prevention targeting leading risk factors for NCDs like air pollution, tobacco and alcohol consumption as well as unhealthy diets; and strengthening health information systems and other global public goods for health.
“These actions are important also in the battle against Covid-19. We need to strengthen health systems in low income countries in order to fight the pandemic. We need to prevent and reduce risk through multisectoral measures. And we need to increase the access to health data and health information,” said Ulstein.
The strategy will support the SDG 3 targets of reducing premature deaths from NCDs by one-third by 2030 (SDG 3.4), and Universal Health Coverage (SDG 3.8) as well as targets for reducing deaths from air pollution, strengthening tobacco control and preventing harmful use of alcohol.
“Norway is the first donor country with a strategy focusing on NCD-action in developing countries. I hope other donor countries will follow. There is a huge need for funding. Despite the enormous death burden in low- and middle- income countries, NCD efforts only receive between one and two per cent of all global health-related development aid. The funding gap comes with a consequence, and too often the victims are the most vulnerable,” Ulstein added.
Facts and figures
- Non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory disease, diabetes and mental health disorders cause more than 70% of all deaths worldwide. With respect to mental health, some 800,000 people a year die from suicide.
- Worldwide, far more people die from non-communicable diseases each year than from infectious diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, polio, Hiv/Aids and Ebola.
- Of premature NCD-related deaths, some 86% occur in low- and middle-income countries – where there is a lack of capacity and awareness about prevention measures as well as access to diagnosis and treatment. This is also where we see the fastest rate of increase in overall NCD mortality.
- The most important NCD risk factors are tobacco, air pollution, harmful use of alcohol, lack of physical activity and unhealthy diets with too much salt, sugar and trans-fat/saturated fat.
- Large-scale global efforts could save millions of lives, contribute to healthier populations and economic growth in low-income countries. This will be crucial for achieving several of the sustainable development goals.
- Currently about 1-2 percent of the world’s total health-related development assistance goes toward combating non-communicable diseases.
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