The COVID-19 pandemic has created a seismic upheaval in global health care and individual health testing and treatment. Previous gains in reducing life-threatening chronic diseases are being eroded by the need to turn attention and resources to the pandemic. It feels like a “Snakes and Ladders” board game: The counter has landed on the head of a snake and programs for other diseases have slid to the bottom of the board, landing many years behind.
Today is World Diabetes Day, a global observation that coincides with National Diabetes Month, when organizations across the United States work to raise awareness of a disease so serious that it can cause heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure or loss of toes, feet or legs.
FHI 360 works with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to expand its National Diabetes Prevention Program (National DPP), a public–private partnership of community organizations, insurers, employers, health care organizations and government agencies working together to prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes — the most common form of diabetes.
The statistics are alarming. One in three American adults has prediabetes, a condition in which they have an elevated blood glucose (sugar) level that is not quite high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. Most do not even know they have it. People with prediabetes are five to 15 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. (Learn about the different types of diabetes.)
Next week, global leaders will meet at the United Nations to take on some of the world’s greatest killers: cancer, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, heart disease, and stroke. The UN High-Level Meeting on the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases on September 19–20, has the potential to finally address these leading causes of death and disability, which until now have been largely ignored.
Yet when we wake up on Sept. 21, how much will have changed? Will there be a new Global Fund to fight noncommunicable diseases (NCDs)? Will key stakeholders, such as those involved in urban planning, agriculture, trade and current global health priorities be as engaged as they need to be to realize ambitious goals of measurably reducing disease? Will the public even know what an NCD is — even though more than 60 percent of deaths worldwide are from noncommunicable diseases, the majority from cardiovascular disease?
The answer to all of these questions is: not yet. September 21 will be the start of the real work. The problems of NCDs are complex, but we have many opportunities to alter the course of what has become a global crisis.
There are a number of concrete steps that countries and health systems can take immediately to strengthen their commitment to reducing noncommunicable diseases. They can ratify and implement the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the world’s first public health treaty. Many countries already have the makings of NCD plans in existing cancer plans, tobacco control programs and strategies for diabetes and cardiovascular disease. They may also have specific programs to address respiratory disease, mental health and other issues. Health systems can make essential drugs, such as aspirin and statins, available immediately and at a low cost because many are off patent.
As leading researchers and public health officials said in an April 2011 Lancet article, “An effective response to NCDs requires government leadership and coordination of all relevant sectors and stakeholders, reinforced through international cooperation.”
In the end, we will need to make compromises and learn to share resources with people and institutions with whom we are not accustomed to collaborating. We will need to delay gratification and risk unpopularity in some of our choices. And we will likely not see the payoff in our lifetimes. But with time, effort and investment, we will see results.