A platform for voices supporting women's rights
By Dr. Patricia Jenkings.
Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) are fast becoming a global health tsunami. They are an increasing problem for women world-wide and largely impact on the already disadvantaged which raises a number of human rights issues. NCDs include cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes, and have overtaken infectious diseases as the leading cause of mortality across the globe.
In March of this year, The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that NCDs represented 63 per cent of all annual deaths. Nearly 80 per cent of all NCD deaths occurred in low and middle-income countries. The WHO projected that number would increase to 55 million by 2030, if changes are not made to existing practices.
The WHO further reported that the risk factors for chronic NCDs were common among disadvantaged Chinese women aged 18 or older. Data from the 2010 China Chronic Disease and Risk Factor Surveillance survey, comprising a nationally representative sample of women, was obtained and found insufficient intake of fruit and vegetables reached 51.7 per cent; overweight and obesity, 32.3 per cent; raised blood pressure, 29.7per cent; physical inactivity 18.3 per cent; raised total serum cholesterol 18.1 per cent; raised blood glucose, 7.0 per cent; current smoking 2.4 per cent; and harmful use of alcohol 1.3 per cent. In total, it was found that 48 per cent of Chinese women had at least two risk factors. It was concluded that interventions to reduce these factors were needed and should target women who are older, who live in eastern or central China as well as those who are poorly educated.
Furthermore, Dr John Seffrin, CEO, American Cancer Society says cancer is clearly a leading cause of death for women world-wide and that the burden will only escalate without collective action and multi-sector leadership. According to the International Agency for Research and Cancer, approximately 3.3 million women died from cancer in 2008 worldwide, corresponding to nearly 10,000 deaths per day. This number is projected to nearly double by 2030 simply due to the ageing and growth of the population, with the potential to be even higher because of the adoption of high-risk behavior and lifestyle factors associated with economic development globally.
In terms of breast cancer, WHO has reported that this is the most common cancer in women worldwide, comprising 16 per cent of all female cancers. It was estimated that 519,000 women died in 2004 due to breast cancer. Although it is thought to be a disease of the developed world, a majority (69 per cent) of all breast cancer deaths occurred in developing countries, where the majority of cases are diagnosed in late stages and there was a lack of adequate diagnoses and treatment facilities. That number is increasing.
In March, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon while addressing a Global Colloquium of University Presidents in New York, expressed concern about global health and discussed NCDs. He said that NCDs put health into a new political space in which the main causes of illness and premature death have their roots in non-health sectors, beyond the direct remit of health officials. The Secretary General added that it places a new onus on government departments outside the health sphere and on businesses, schools, community groups and academic experts. It also demanded that the UN and the international community consider the emerging threat NCDs pose for development.
A WHO Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of NCDs 2013-20 has been produced and aims to achieve 9 voluntary global targets. These targets include a 25 per cent reduction in premature mortality from cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases by 2025. This plan provides a road map and a range of policy options for UN Member States to implement collectively. The WHO will be the convener of a formal meeting with United Nations Member States planned for 13 November 2013 to map out how to move forward to help control and prevent NCDs.
Academic RS Magnusson has suggested that while it is important to not downplay the central role of the WHO, it is important that the NCD prevention should become a shared project in the international community, rather than another branch of activities subsumed within the WHO.
This is of the utmost importance, as there is an urgent need to effectively and coherently address what is fast becoming a global health crisis. Given the nature of NCDs, moves to address health challenges should be coordinated through international efforts, so that women are treated fairly and have the ability to make genuine choices about their own healthcare.
Ultimately, prevention and control of NCDs is a global problem requiring global solutions. As NCDs fast become central to international concerns, women’s rights need to be kept in the forefront of the international conciousness in addressing this increasing global health emergency.