#WHA71 Themes: Non-Communicable Diseases

By Sean Adcock (Bond University)

The World Health Assembly brought together a brains trust to ponder the threats of non-communicable diseases. On day five we assembled in the Swiss Press Club where the speakers posed responses, solutions and calls to action to combat and respond to the growing number of NCDs including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancers globally. 

The panel included the Health Minster of Denmark, the Chief Medical Officer of Jamaica and the Senior Health Advisor to Barack Obama. The theme was a balancing act between facilitating and supporting informed decision making of individuals but also nudging a cultural change through regulations to improve the countries overall health.

There targets; trans-saturated fat in foodstuffs, excess sodium and high sugar content. Solutions which have already worked:

Denmark 2003

  • Implementation of a law which states that out of every 100 grams of fat, less than 2 grams can be trans-saturated fat. 
  • Result: 700 lives are saved per year from cardiovascular events

Mexico 2014

  • Implementation of a 10% sugar tax on sugar sweetened beverages
  • Result: 17% decrease in consumption of sugar sweetened beverages in middle and low income families

Jamaica 2015

  • Promoted a “Are You Drinking Yourself Sick” campaign which resulted in a dramatic cultural change in Jamaica

Each and every one of the panellist was a visionary who was not satisfied with the world we live in and could imagine a better tomorrow. But they were also very grounded and practical. A question came from the audience, "should we pay for the complications of diseases in which the person had a choice to eat the cake or drink the soft drink knowing that it is not good for you?" A very fair question indeed. The panel was able to deconstruct the moral dilemma and reveal that not everyone has a choice. If Coca-Cola is cheaper than fresh water in your village, city or slum you are more likely to buy it. Do you really have a choice?

The real difficulty of this issue is summarised simply in a quote offered by one of the panellist and a perfect where to conclude.

“People’s lives we save don’t know we saved them, people’s lives we lose are not around to help."