Green shoots of the 'NCD Spring' appear at the United Nations

10 April 2012

The UN often comes under fire for not having achieved the twin goals of every Miss World contestant - world peace and the eradication of poverty. I say we just haven't achieved them yet. But let's never lose sight of the big goals and let’s never lose sight of the UN System's unique role in setting global standards and visioning major global threats and opportunities coming over the horizon.

let's never lose sight of the big goals and let’s never lose sight of the UN System's unique role in setting global standards

That’s why we asked the UN to hold last September's UN Summit on NCDs. Global problems like diabetes and the other NCDs require global leadership and vision.

Last week, saw that leadership from the UN in three important new areas - yes, the green shoots of the ‘NCD Spring’ are emerging in response to the Summit.

In December the UN system took an impressive first step when UN agencies met for the first time to discuss collaborative action on NCDs. Last week saw a tangible result of that meeting - a joint letter from the Heads of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and WHO (Helen Clark and Margaret Chan) announcing a partnership of their two agencies on NCDs. This is big news indeed!

the green shoots of the ‘NCD Spring’ are emerging in response to the Summit.

The letter from Clark and Chan sent to all UN country offices recommends prioritising NCDs in the UN Development Assistance Frameworks (UNDAFs), which drive UN programmes at country level. This is a major victory for diabetes and NCDs. It signals loud and clear that diabetes/NCDs are the business of the entire UN system, and not just UN agencies working on health. It recognises NCDs as a development challenge touching all sectors and requiring the combined technical expertise and firepower of the entire UN system. And we agree!

When I came into this job 3 years ago diabetes/NCDs were not a priority for the UN system and this level of collaboration was inconceivable. The UN Summit enabled us to make our case - and IDF did that in the UN with the NCD Alliance and NCD champions such as Sir George Alleyne and Robert Beaglehole.

When I came into this job 3 years ago diabetes/NCDs were not a priority for the UN system and this level of collaboration was inconceivable

Secondly, last week I was consulted on WHO and UNAIDS plans for a potential joint working on NCDs. In IDF we often quote the man in Cambodia who told IDF Past President Martin Silink 'I wish I had AIDS and not diabetes'. We have always argued for diabetes to be integrated into existing health systems and programmes, particularly at primary health care. Thankfully, people with AIDS are now living (not dying) with that disease and (less good news), are living long enough to get NCDs like diabetes. AIDS is now a chronic disease like diabetes. Bringing together NCDs with AIDS will drive better health systems that will benefit people with all other conditions and diseases. We have reason to be very optimistic about this development and look forward to seeing its impact on the ground.

Two green shoots and there is more.

NCDs are absent from the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This has been an obstacle to mobilising the political priority and resources needed for diabetes/NCDs. IDF and the NCD Alliance have lobbied hard to ensure diabetes and NCDs are integrated into the development framework that will replace the MDGs in 2015.

This week we came a step closer when UNDP announced that the consultations for the post 2015 framework will include NCDs
 

This week we came a step closer when UNDP – the lead UN agency on the post-2015 development framework – announced that the consultations for the post 2015 framework will include NCDs. We are thrilled with this development. These consultations will help shape the next iteration of the MDGs which will in turn shape global action and resource flows. We will not be left out this time!

This breakthrough is also due to the momentum and visibility created by the UN Summit on NCDs and the behind the scenes work of IDF and our partners. I had the pleasure of being at a dinner with the Head of UNDP Helen Clark last November, enabling me to stress that diabetes/NCDs are a critical development issue UNDP cannot ignore. IDF and the NCD Alliance were later invited to submit a briefing paper to UNDP and the UN Task Team on our vision for diabetes/NCDs in the post-2015 development framework. We did that and today we have evidence that our message was heard.

So this week I want to applaud UNDP, WHO and UNAIDS for their vision and leadership. Change is coming for diabetes/NCDs and from my vantage point in the Northern hemisphere, Spring is in the air!