Geneva, 19 May 2019 (PAHO) - Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as cardiovascular and respiratory disease, cancer, and diabetes, are the leading cause of death in the world. However, according to Carissa F. Etienne, Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), communicating effectively about them is a significant challenge.

“NCDs are the plague of our time”

At “Communicating Impact: Lessons for Raising the Profile of NCDs”, a side event organized by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the World Health Organization (WHO) and held the day before the official start of the 72nd World Health Assembly, NGO journalists and communicators discussed how the public health community can address how to talk about a group of chronic conditions that cause seven out of every ten deaths in the world.

“NCDs are the plague of our time,” Etienne said. “We must keep the messages simple and effective, and invest more in communication,” she said. “If we want to successfully reverse the catastrophe that NCDs are causing, we need a massive social movement, nothing less.”

The PAHO Director showed the video on noncommunicable diseases produced by Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York and WHO Ambassador for NCDs and Injuries. In the video, Bloomberg and a group of people clearly explain what NCDs are and why they matter.

“NCD stands for ‘noncommunicable disease.’ It’s something you can’t catch; you get it from something else. Obesity, heart and respiratory problems, diabetes, cancer; those things don’t come from somebody else, they come from things acting on you or that you develop in your body: an unhealthy diet, pollution in the air, smoking, these are things we can do something about, and so government really can help people prevent these noncommunicable diseases,” Bloomberg explains in the video.

WHO recommends that countries develop sound legislation and fiscal measures to protect people from tobacco, unhealthy foods, and other harmful products, through measures such as limiting advertising on alcoholic beverages, banning smoking in certain places, and taxing sugary beverages.

Also on the panel were Jamie Drummond, co-founder of One Campaign, an organization that works to end poverty and preventable diseases, Joshua Blumenfeld, Director of Global Policy and Advocacy at Malaria No More, and Marlowe Hood, environment and science correspondent for Agence France-Press (AFP). The panelists all agreed on the need to take advantage of what they called “collective action moments”, such as 2020, when there will be only 10 years left to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which may spur action and strengthen commitment. They also recommended not complicating health issues, using simple language, investing in human talent in the area of communication, and avoiding the use of acronyms in order to reach people more easily. 

Bloomberg Philanthropies works with governments and cities around the world to implement proven policies and programs that help reduce deaths from NCDs.