When it comes to our biggest Global Health challenges, it’s easy to get bogged down in focusing only on the problems. How many millions die each year, or the economic cost of disease, the social toll of neglected health issues or the exponential increase in communities affected.
Defining the problem is essential, but endless discussion focused solely on the challenges can be dangerous. ‘Doomsday talk’ leads us down a path of feeling overwhelmed, numbed and paralysed; a path where we avoid discussing the issue altogether; a path that leads to inaction and eventually (and most dangerously), political and social apathy.
In 2014, we are in desperate need for a change in focus; a new rhetoric. A shift from talking about the problems facing humanity, to beginning a discussion about solutions. It’s time we accepted that the problems exist, achieve consensus that they are a priority and actually move a step closer towards overcoming them.
If we look at two of our biggest Global Health threats, obesity-related disease or NCDs, and Climate Change - this shift could not be more important. We know most of the facts.
We know that these are both issues that we have created and that therefore we can solve. We know that they are hitting the poorest on the globe hardest and threaten to undo some of the great progress we have made in health and development over the last centuries.
We know that together, they threaten the very fabric of our global community, the integrity of our natural planet and that the time is never going to be easier, or more crucial for action than now.
But more than this, when it comes to diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancers, lung diseases and mental illness - we also know the solutions. That those solutions are possible, will probably actually save us money and will definitively save lives.
We know that rethinking the way we design cities, to make health easier, will result in healthier urban populations. This, in a world where more than 50% of our global community now lives in cities. We know that tighter regulation of the food system and retail environments will result in healthier diets - at a time when poor diet is the leading risk factors for disease worldwide. We also know that addressing the high cost of good food and the cheap nature of junk food (and building in the true costs of those unhealthy foods) will result in healthier choices by families and individuals. We know that investing more in preventative health will actually likely save us money from the healthcare system, and bring added economic, social and health benefits to those it serves.
Globally, 80% of diabetes and heart disease and 1 in 3 cancers is currently preventable with the tools, skills and knowledge we have. It is not about nanotechnologies or magic pills, the solutions exist today.
We just have to start talking about them.
With this in mind, throughout the month of October, NCDFREE - a grassroots, social movement supported by the Harvard Global Equity Initiative, Remedy Healthcare and the University of Melbourne - is running a global campaign called The Face of Non-Communicable Disease, or NCDs. Crowdsourcing stories and faces from around the world, they aim to support those affected by or affecting NCDs. In the final week of the campaign, NCDFREE is crowdsourcing solutions from their global community. Here are some of those solutions:
“I truly believe that all people have the right to an informed choice in their pursuit of a happy life, but when big corporations cunningly promote their unhealthy products, I do not think that right is upheld. I want to tell people the true story, just as cleverly as all the advertising agencies working to promote an unhealthy lifestyle in the interest of big business.” - Rasmus, Copenhagen
“I see a lot of people putting a lot of effort into personally staying NCDFREE, and I work with a lot of people who spend a lot of their time and brainpower working towards a world free of NCDs. In both cases, it always seems like they’re fighting against the current. Surely, it would be better if governments and businesses worked together so individuals bore less of the responsibility and workload” - Simon, GACD, London
“Our health system is cracking from the pressure of chronic diseases and spiralling healthcare costs. The need to invest in medical research that can find better and more affordable ways to deliver health care has never been greater - the time to act is now.”- Vlado, The George Institute, Sydney
“In more and more countries being overweight or obese is the norm. Its the most shocking sign that our food system is simply failing. It’s going to take concerted effort from governments, the food industry and the public to make the changes needed to tackle this problem. Failure to do so will have catastrophic consequences for humanity.” - Henry, York
“I ride my bike everywhere and advocate for better infrastructure: the humble bicycle is a great tool to address NCDs, climate change, pollution, etc. We can be both in better shape and happier if we ride around our cities. I hope we one day have healthy cities where we prioritize active transport.”- Gen, Montreal
“I’m studying urban planning, and am just starting to realise how much good town planning can affect people’s health. Obviously, if you want people to exercise, you need to plan for footpaths, but its amazing how much people’s mental health is also affected by their environmets and sense of community.” - Sarah, Melbourne
For more stories and solutions, head to www.thefaceofncds.org today.