"It is important to consider NCD prevention and care in all healthcare services because most of these premature deaths are largely preventable by enabling health systems to respond to the main NCD risk factors – tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, the harmful use of alcohol and drugs, and air pollution."
Substance use is considered a non-communicable disease (NCD). Can you more generally describe NCD's and why it is important to consider NCD prevention and care in all healthcare services?
NCDs – mainly cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes – kill 41 million people each year (71% of global deaths), including 15 million people who die too young between 30 and 69. Along with mental illness, NCDs undermine multiple aspects of national development, including economic growth, productivity, social welfare, education, and quality of life.
It is important to consider NCD prevention and care in all healthcare services, because most of these premature deaths are largely preventable by enabling health systems to respond to the main NCD risk factors – tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, the harmful use of alcohol and drugs, and air pollution. The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified a set of cost-effective and evidence-based interventions called 'best buys.' These aim to deliver the greatest possible health impact in reducing illness, disability, and premature death from NCDs.
How has the COVID-19 virus impacted people with NCDs?
COVID-19 is interacting with NCDs to form the 'perfect storm' of avoidable death and suffering. Evidence demonstrates that NCDs and their risk factors are associated with greater susceptibility to COVID-19 infection and increased risks of severe diseases and death from COVID-19.
In addition, the pandemic has severely disrupted diagnostic, treatment, rehabilitation, and palliation services for people living with NCDs. Measures to contain the pandemic, such as lockdowns, have contributed to certain behavioral risk factors. They include physical inactivity, an unhealthy diet, tobacco use, and harmful use of alcohol and drugs. It can not be stressed enough that the mental health impact of COVID-19 has been substantial, with increased fear, worries, stress, and anxiety.
Given that World Health Day is the 7th of April, can you share the work that WHO is involved in related to NCDs and the UN Interagency Taskforce?
This year's edition of the World Health Day will be dedicated to building a fairer, healthier world, with a central focus on social determinants of health.
WHO leads the global response to NCDs, based on the strategic objectives of the NCD Global Action Plan 2013-2030. The action plan provides a road map and a menu of policy options for Member States and other stakeholders, to take coordinated and coherent action to attain nine global targets that have the greatest impact on global NCD mortality. WHO's focus is to support countries' comprehensive responses to NCDs and improve mental health as part of broader efforts to achieve universal health coverage.
The United Nations Interagency Task Force facilitates cooperation between more than 40 UN agencies, the World Bank and other regional development banks, governments, and non-State actors to tackle NCDs and mental health conditions, recognizing that responding to these challenges requires action beyond the health sector. The Task Force's strategic priorities are: (i) supporting countries to deliver multisectoral action on the NCD-related SDG targets; (ii) mobilizing resources to support NCD prevention and interventions; (iii) harmonizing action and forging partnerships; and (iv) being an exemplar for UN reform.
Scaling up action on NCDs and mental health is key to a fairer and healthier world.
Can you say a few words about the 'Listen First' campaign and how it might be used in support of NCD prevention?
'Listen First' is an important initiative to increase support for science-based drug use prevention. The global campaign will help reduce NCDs by preventing substance use and improving the skills that children need to develop strong mental health.
The 'Listen First' campaign strengthens the argument that investing in the prevention and control of NCDs and mental health conditions yields excellent social and economic returns by tackling their shared risk factors such as substance use, including tobacco and alcohol use. The campaign targets parents, teachers, and policymakers. It is a great opportunity to raise the profile of NCDs and mental health across sectors beyond health, including finance, education, and social protection, thus promoting a coherent and multi-sectoral response.
The campaign can also serve as a fundraising occasion for the new NCD and mental health Multi-Partner Trust Fund. Funds can then be used to support national initiatives around the prevention of substance use as part of the broader effort to tackle NCDs and mental health.
Made possible with the generous support of France.