Why the SDGs Should Include NCDs (Two Acronyms You Need to Know)

2015 is going to be a pivotal year in global health, no matter the outcome. The Millennium Development Goals are expiring and the Sustainable Development Goals will take their place. The precise targets of the Sustainable Development Goals will be debated over the course of the year; and whatever is included will drive the international development agenda until 2030. This means that there is a great deal at stake in the makeup of the SDGs. And one burning question in the global health community is whether or not the SDGs will include targets related to the burden of so-called Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs).

What are the implications of inclusion vs. exclusion of NCD’s in the post-2015 agenda?

NCDs encompass the diseases often associated with developed countries and western lifestyles: Cancer, heart-disease, diabetes, respiratory diseases, etc. However, as emerging economies come to scale, many of these chronic conditions are affecting their populations at epidemic rates, and the health systems of many developing world countries are unable to adequately confront these new burdens.

Last month, at the World Cancer Congress – a biennial convening of Cancer and NCD advocates and experts- gathered in Melbourne with the focus of “joining and accelerating forces”. The advocates at this event had a clear message: Cancer and all NCD’s must be elevated as a priority or risk being ignored for post-2015 funding. Organizations like the Union for International Cancer Control and the NCD Alliance have sounded the alarm that chronic diseases are a grave reality across developing parts of Africa, Asia, India, and Latin America, and are in desperate need of an infrastructure to manage and treat.

If NCD’s are left off the SDG agenda, the global community will have knowingly ignored the tenets of the MDGs and SDGs- such as equity, human rights, and economic development- by limiting access to detection and care of this obvious and ubiquitous threat, and restraining their populations’ capabilities to work and care for their families.

So far, the international community seems to be coalescing around including NCDs in the SDGs. The current working draft of the SDGs includes a target to “By 2030, reduce by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well being.”

This is a good start. The inclusion of NCDs in the SDGs will mean shared resources for healthcare. With the introduction of NCDs to the global health and development dialogue over the last several years, the public health community has drawn the delineation between infectious and non-communicable diseases. The reality is that both are integral to the the sustainability of human health and should be funded with equal attention and priority. This should not be the battle between the disease burdens, but should be approached with partnership and cooperation.

“Post-2015” has been a conversation cornerstone over the last several years in global health, as the global community prepares for what’s beyond the 2015 horizon. The MDG’s have taken the global community to new reaches in development. As we think about how to sustainably continue that development, it is most important to think ahead and forecast what the greatest human needs will be. As human health is a precursor to family and community wellness, as well as economic strengthening, attention to NCD’s should reflect and correspond to the burden it places on our global population and planet.