Health beyond the horizon

A week filming in Mongolia: local change-maker to bring global change.

Wrapping-up after a sensational week in Mongolia. Here to film a short-film for our recently-launched health advocacy initiative, we have spent the days profiling a young, inspiring, local, health change-maker - Byambaa.

NCDFREE is a global social movement against the world’s leading cause of death: NCDs (or Non-Communicable Diseases). Founded earlier this year, NCDFREE sets out to change the way societies world-wide think about diabetes, heart disease, cancers, lung diseases and mental health (NCDs).

But also the way we communicate them.

As an academic, I traditionally communicate through scientific journals. As a branding and design expert, co-founder Giuseppe uses very different tools to connect with society. Our idea is to use the latter, to “rebrand” this global health challenge and paint an accurate face of the global epidemic.

You see, when people think of these diseases, they think of old, fat people in rich countries. Actually, 80% of disease occurs in the world’s poorest nations, where the burden is rapidly rising.

The true face of the global epidemic is in fact, likely to be Asian, below 70, female and impoverished.


The film follows a young female cardiology-trainee, who has seen the transition from communism to democracy in her lifetime. She has seen a city double in size and a GDP more than quadruple. But with this, she has also seen a change in the nation’s diet - in fact just this month the first KFC store opened in UB - and a change in the lifestyles of the populations as they replace the horse for an SUV. Transition from a ger to an apartment, and from the steppes to a dense, urban centre.

30% of the population may still live in poverty, but this is a 25% drop from 1 year earlier.

Rapid change is occuring.

“And although this all represents important and needed progress for Mongolia” describes Byambaa, “it has also brought major changes in the health of the population”. As infectious diseases and childhood illnesses dive - obesity, hypertension and NCDs have skyrocketed.

Through the story of this young community advocate and doctor from Ulaanbaatar, NCDFREE plans to change the way people think about these diseases. Connecting NCDs with the reality of poor, marginalised people - often facing a lack of health-promoting opportunities.


Byambaa is confident - in the future and in the health trajectory of her nation.

Spend much time with her, and you will be confident too.

She sees great potential in her colleagues and peers, and tells of a young generation that is very different from the one before. One that is globally connected, globally educated and passionate for change in their country.

Change that will not only see a continuation of economic prosperity and development, but one that will also empower and enable a population to live healthier and longer lives. Free from chronic, debilitating disease.


Well, we’ve been here a week and today we’re finishing up. Packing away the cameras and with it, footage of nomadic families, Ulaanbaatar’s poorest districts, the beautiful countryside, the generous locals, the rapidly transforming city and the optimism of a young generation.

Footage which will not only show a stunning and fascinating journey of a young leader and passionate health-promoter, but also rally a global community to action on a group of largely ignored, mostly-preventable yet highly deadly diseases.


Listen to a podcast interview focusing on NCDFREE and our trip to Mongolia, broadcasted live yesterday on ABC Radio Australia.


Connect with Sandro on Twitter via @SandroDemaio.

To follow our trip more closely this week, head to the NCDFREE Facebook page.