Advocates seek noncommunicable disease funding mechanisms

Uganda NCD Alliance holds a parade around the community in Kampala to raise awareness of NCDs. Photo by: A Wang / WHO

MEXICO CITY — Advocates are pushing for the third U.N. high-level meeting on noncommunicable diseases next September to create new financing mechanisms, experts have told Devex.

At a media briefing in Mexico City last week, experts from the NCD Alliance expressed concern with the lack of progress on tackling NCDs, which kill 40 million people every year, three-quarters of which occur in low- and middle-income countries. At the first U.N. high-level meeting, countries set nine global NCD targets, including reducing premature mortality from NCDs by 2025.

“The figures and the epidemic is out of control. If governments continue business as usual, we won’t meet any targets. We need political leadership, more resources, and a better focus on profitable interventions,” said Katie Dain, chief executive officer of the NCD Alliance.

José Luis Castro, executive director of the International Union Against Tuberculosis  and Lung Disease and chair of the NCD Alliance, said a mechanism for funding — either at the international or national level — was critical to hold countries accountable.

Advocates would favor a sort of “Global Fund model” for NCDs, drawing on the experience fighting AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. But Dain and Castro both said they don’t believe there is enough political will.

“Big donors are just not interested in funding for NCDs. The appetite for creating new funds has waned,” Dain said.

Instead, they argued, the focus should be on domestic funding mechanisms, where advocates can make the case that combatting NCDs is in a country’s national interest.

“How are we going to pay for interventions in every country? Where is the money going to come from? Policymakers see communicable diseases as a threat to security, just like Ebola, where the response was huge. With NCDs, we have to make the argument to policymakers about the urgency of this,” he said.

Less than half of all countries have a national NCD plan and NCD targets. But the Sustainable Development Goals include specific targets related to NCDs, including reducing premature mortality from NCDs by one-third by 2030.

One way to raise revenue for NCDs is a sugar tax. Mexico, which has one of the world’s highest rates of obesity and diabetes, introduced a 10 percent sugar tax on sugar-sweetened drinks to curb sugar consumption four years ago. Dr. Jesus Felipe Gonzalez, director general of the National Center for Disease Prevention and Control at the Ministry of Health in Mexico, told Devex he hoped more countries would follow suit.

“What is my recommendation? Apply a specific tax and have a specific goal about its economic impact in terms of its financial revenue and people’s access to health care,” he said.

At the end of 2017, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will submit a report on the progress achieved in the implementation of commitments made in 2011 and the 2014 U.N. outcome document on NCDs.

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About the author

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    Sophie Cousins

    Sophie Cousins a Devex Contributor based in South Asia. She is a health journalist focused on women and girls. She was previously based between Lebanon and Iraq, focusing on refugee health and conflict. She writes for international medical journals, including The Lancet, and for international news websites such as the Guardian.