The East Africa NCD Alliance, the Danish NCD Alliance, Novo Nordisk and the NCD Alliance held a Side Event at United Nations Headquarters on September 26, 2018 during the week of the UN High Level Meeting on NCDs. The event was held under the theme Combatting NCDs from the Village to the UN: Integration of NCD Interventions into UHC. It was co-hosted by the Government of Kenya, Government of Tanzania and Government of Denmark.
The goal of the Event was to illustrate the social impact of NCDs on households in Africa, draw from the experiences of governments, people living with NCDs (PLWNCDs), and wider civil society; and to dialogue about collaboration between governments, civil society and private sector to renew the fight against NCDs as a sustainable development priority in East Africa and globally, with a particular focus on Universal Health Coverage (UHC). The Event which was timed on the day before the third UN High Level Meeting on NCDs was also aimed at amplifying the voice of the PLWNCDs and calls for urgent action in relation to the 2018 UN Political Declaration on NCDs.
Key speakers included Hon Ummy Mwalimu (Minister of Health Tanzania); Mr Per Okkels (PS Ministry of Health, Denmark), Dr Anne Wamae (on behalf of the Minster of Health of Kenya), Mr Edward Ligondo (PLWNCD from Kenya), Dr Cristina Parsons-Perez (NCD Alliance), Mr Stefan Islandi (Danish NCD Alliance), Prof Gerald Yonga(East Africa NCD Alliance) and Dr Githinji Gitahi (Amref Africa).
Over 50 participants attended. These included government representatives including the Rwanda Minister of State for Health (Dr Patrick Ndimubanzi), South Africa Deputy Minister of Health (Dr Joseph Phaahla), Minster of Health from Kenya, the PS Ministry of Health, Denmark, among others. Other participants included NCD civil society representatives and representatives of Foundations. In keeping with the theme, PLWNCDs were invited to the UN from rural villages in Uganda and Kenya to share their stories about living with NCDs.
The different speakers provided a broad perspective from PLWNCDs, governments representative and NCD civil society leaders. Government representatives noted that NCDs are now recognised a serious concern especially in developing countries, and that there is a clear and urgent role for governments to contribute, building further on existing efforts. They highlighted the need to increase access to NCD care at lower levels to ensure that poor people are also protected, and the importance of partnerships with CSOs and private sector.
From the perspective of people living with NCDs, it was clear that there is lack of awareness of NCDs even among health workers even when patients go with clear NCD signs, which is a major cause of suffering. There is need for services at lower levels closer to people, especially in rural areas to avoid the costly need to travel to major towns. NCDs should be treated as an emergency, with due investment to integrate NCD interventions into UHC and insurance packages. There is need to protect human rights of PLWNCDs; many have lost jobs once diagnosed with NCDs even when they are capable of working, and PLWNCDS are too rarely included in decision making. Their personal testimonies helped illuminate the human experience of NCDs. This goes beyond numbers in reports but refers to people – families and communities – who have been impacted.
Civil society leaders emphasised the need to make NCDs and health a development priority in government and government development agencies. They called on governments to increase NCD financing and see it as an investment not a cost. It was emphasised that UHC cannot be achieved without full integration of NCD prevention and control, and the involvement of PLWNCDS in decision making. They highlighted the work already done and the role of CSOs in the prevention and control of NCDs, and expressed regret for the slow response in Africa where simple but life-saving technologies like blood pressure monitors are still needed in primary health care facilities. Governments must take the foremost responsibility for the health of their citizens.
With the formal adoption of the 2018 UN Political Declaration on NCDs taking place the day after this side event, the participants called on governments to go above and beyond the language set out in the Declaration. They also used the same opportunity to refocus attention on the 2019 UN High-level Meeting on UHC, making it clear that UHC will remain out of reach without due attention to NCD prevention and control.