An empty outdoor gym

COVID-19 exposed global failure to invest in public health

Pandemic must stimulate greater political action around non-communicable diseases.
03 September 2020 , Katie Coyne

Better preventative public health strategies are needed to be employed globally to tackle premature deaths from non-communicable diseases (NCDs), says a Lancet report.

COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of tackling NCDs as many of those living with these diseases are more susceptible to the virus and have worse outcomes if they become infected. Yet many countries are failing in these areas, says the report.

In 2015, world leaders signed up to a UN Sustainable Development 2030 goal of a one-third reduction in deaths from four key NCDs – cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes – among those aged between 30 and 70.

Yet among high-income countries, just Denmark, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore and South Korea are on track to meet the target, according to the findings of the 2nd edition of the NCD Countdown 2030 report.

Katie Dain, chief executive of NCD Alliance, said: “COVID-19 has exposed how a failure to invest in effective public health to prevent NCDs and provide health care for people living with NCDs can come back to bite us.”

Each year NCDs kill more than 40 million people, comprising seven out of ten deaths. Of these, 17 million deaths are people younger than 70 years, classed as premature.

Dain added: “The good news is that all countries can still meet the 2030 targets, with sound policies and smart investments. NCD prevention and treatment can no longer be seen a 'nice to have', it must be considered as part of pandemic preparedness.”

But Majid Ezzati, professor of global environmental health at Imperial College London, who led the study, warned: “No country can reach that target by simply addressing a single disease - what is needed is a package of measures, a strong health system, which addresses prevention, early detection and treatment, tailored to the national situation.”

A Lancet editorial, described the relationship between COVID-19 and NCDs as “dangerous” and was “experienced as a syndemic that is exacerbating social and economic inequalities.”

It added: “COVID-19 is a pandemic that must highlight the high burden that NCDs place on health resources. It should act as a catalyst for governments to implement stricter tobacco, alcohol and sugar controls, as well as focused investment in improving physical activity and healthy diets.

“COVID-19 has shown that many of the tools required for fighting a pandemic are also those required to fight NCDs: disease surveillance, a strong civil society, robust public health, clear communication and equitable access to resilient universal health-care systems.”

It concluded: “COVID-19 must stimulate far greater political action to overcome inertia around NCDs.”

Luminous cubes

CIEH Leadership Programme

Take your career to the next level with the CIEH Leadership Programme.

Find out more