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Bring Lessons From the “AIDS Decade” to the Fight Against the Global Epidemic of Noncommunicable Diseases

Article / Review by on February 22, 2012 – 8:06 pmNo Comments

Bring Lessons From the “AIDS Decade” to the Fight Against the Global Epidemic of Noncommunicable Diseases

There is a myth that chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes are only a problem for wealthier countries. But in fact, noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) kill 28 million people annually in low- and middle-income countries. Eight million of these deaths—more than those who die each year from AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined—are preventable through lifestyle changes and improved access to quality, affordable health care services.

A home care nurse measures the blood pressure of a terminal cervical cancer patient in Uttam Nagar, New Delhi, India. © 2007 Divya Pal Singh, Courtesy of Photoshare
A home care nurse measures the blood pressure of a terminal cervical cancer patient in Uttam Nagar, New Delhi, India. © 2007 Divya Pal Singh, Courtesy of Photoshare

But Jonathan Quick, a physician and president of the nonprofit Management Sciences for Health, told an HSPH audience on February 8, 2012, that current trends point to the problem getting worse before it gets better. However, the tide can be turned, he said, if global health practitioners learn to apply the lessons from the past decade’s fight against AIDS.

During the “AIDS Decade,” which Quick defined as beginning in the early 2000s with several key events including a High-Level Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly and the founding of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the global community committed an unprecedented $80 billion to combat infectious diseases. AIDS treatment increased 50-fold, and care for orphans and others made vulnerable by AIDS greatly improved. Prevention efforts were slow to launch and could still be improved, Quick said, but the rate of new infections from AIDS peaked in 1997 and deaths peaked in 2005.

Now we are in the “NCD Decade”, and public health professionals must do a better job at mobilizing society-wide responses to the complex web of risk factors contributing to chronic diseases, Quick said. For example, as populations urbanize and develop, they may lose access to healthy food and adopt more sedentary lifestyles, increasing their risk for heart disease. Prevention efforts should focus on interventions with wide-ranging impact, such as raising cigarette taxes and banning smoking in bars and restaurants.  And planning, financing, and delivery of health care services must be integrated and efficient in an environment of diminishing resources, he said. Clinics are already experimenting with screening for cancer during appointments for HIV services.

Given the current global economic climate, there isn’t likely to be a Global Fund for NCDs, Quick said. A better focus is on improved access to care for all. He called for a global social movement to encourage countries to transform their health systems to provide universal health coverage.

Quick cited the efforts of AIDS activists as a driving force in reducing stigma against those living with the disease and improving access to treatment and prevention. Movements catalyzed by people living with cancers, diabetes, and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and other NCDs could achieve similar results, he said.

“When people have never seen a national AIDS program, they think of all kinds of reasons why you can’t do it,” Quick said. “The conversation changes when you have proof that something can be done.”

By Amy Roeder
Assistant Editor/Web Communications Specialist
Harvard School of Public Health


About Harvard Medical School (HMS)

Driving Change. Building Momentum. Making History.

“Since 1872, Harvard Medical School has been the incubator of bold ideas—a place where extraordinary people advance education, science and health care with unrelenting passion.

Whether training tomorrow’s doctors and scientists, decoding the fundamental nature of life, advancing patient care or improving health delivery systems around the world, we are never at rest. Allied with some of the world’s best hospitals, research institutes and a University synonymous with excellence, the School’s mission remains as ambitious as it is honorable: to alleviate human suffering caused by disease.”

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About Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH)

Harvard School of Public Health is dedicated to advancing the public’s health through learning, discovery and communication. More than 400 faculty members are engaged in teaching and training the 1,000-plus student body in a broad spectrum of disciplines crucial to the health and well being of individuals and populations around the world. Programs and projects range from the molecular biology of AIDS vaccines to the epidemiology of cancer; from risk analysis to violence prevention; from maternal and children’s health to quality of care measurement; from health care management to international health and human rights.

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About Harvard University.

Established in 1636, Harvard is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States. The University, which is based in Cambridge and Boston, Massachusetts, has an enrollment of over 20,000 degree candidates, including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. Harvard has more than 360,000 alumni around the world.

Harvard University is devoted to excellence in teaching, learning, and research, and to developing leaders in many disciplines who make a difference globally. Harvard faculty are engaged with teaching and research to push the boundaries of human knowledge. For students who are excited to investigate the biggest issues of the 21st century, Harvard offers an unparalleled student experience and a generous financial aid program, with over $160 million awarded to more than 60% of our undergraduate students. The University has twelve degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, offering a truly global education.

‘Universities nurture the hopes of the world: in solving challenges that cross borders; in unlocking and harnessing new knowledge; in building cultural and political understanding; and in modeling environments that promote dialogue and debate… The ideal and breadth of liberal education that embraces the humanities and arts as well as the social and natural sciences is at the core of Harvard’s philosophy. ’/ Drew Gilpin Faust

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* The above story is adapted from materials provided by Harvard University

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