Non-Communicable Diseases: seizing new opportunities

Shuo Zhang's picture

Following Monday the 19th of September, as the world meets to discuss NCD’s at the UN summit in New York; many eyes will be tuned in to change. Underlying the main event is a new precipitation of health activism as organisations one by one realise that we have a shared mission. For me this echoes the fervour before COP15, when climate change suddenly stopped being an issue of weather, statistics and polar bears, and started to be put into the context of social justice, death, disease and famine.  It transcended our television screens and made the intangible and distant very much real and present. Non-Communicable Diseases is another such issue that will benefit hugely from thinking laterally and holistically so that we can work at the fundamental level- the structural issues that are embedded within even our economics and politics.

In many ways it embodies what sustainable healthcare has been trying to achieve, in terms of both theory and practice. Connections can be fruitfully made between the two camps. For example, the emphasis on considering wider ecological wellbeing can be mirrored in the appeal to the social determinants of health model which takes the causation of disease beyond purely individual factors. These webs of connections are fundamentally about ways of seeing- looking at the whole system and trying to identify underlying trends rather than treating one problem at a time.  This approach is not just embedded in the theory, but also in the action- both recognise that changing political and economic systems are important for changing patterns of behaviour. We need to find innovative new interventions that work, and in many ways we need to think more laterally outside the traditional realm of medicine.  Community projects such as the Green Gym, a charity aimed at getting people involved in gardening together address sustainability, health and community issues together. We should be open to seizing such opportunities.

By considering what the activism surrounding NCDs can offer sustainable healthcare and vice versa, a whole list of commonalities in both theory and action becomes apparent. Together they give even more impetus to act.  Further the lifestyle changes needed to decrease NCDs are the same as those needed for sustainable healthcare. By curing our ‘addiction to carbon’ and shifting to new ways of living and participation we are truly embracing the co-benefits for health and climate change. This is why I have been working with other medical students as part of an IFMSA (International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations) small working group on NCDs. I wanted to make the reverse connection, as in get them to connect NCDs to sustainable healthcare. We have been producing resources which can be disseminated internationally and therefore directly educate and inform the next generation of healthcare practitioners.  Hopefully this will just be the beginning of a fruitful collaboration.

A toolkit featuring everything from PowerPoints for teaching medical student and the public, as well as videos, template letters and guides can be found here:



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Rachel Stancliffe's picture

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