Why NCDs just aren’t sexy enough - and what young people can do about it


By Anja Bjerregaard Christiansen, NCD Project Manager at Danish Red Cross

Globally, 70 percent of all deaths are caused by non-communicable diseases (or the easier-digestible acronym ‘NCDs’). A term referring to conditions requiring continuous and often life-long care. Conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and asthma. Low- and middle-income countries are disproportionately burdened, accounting for more than three quarters of all NCD-related deaths.

In humanitarian emergencies, the challenges of NCDs are further intensified. Broken-down health systems, scarce and fragmented supply of essential drugs - this is the reality for many people in fragile and crises-affected contexts. 128 million people are affected by humanitarian disasters today, often lasting years, not to mention decades. And people living with NCDs are among the most vulnerable groups.

So, you think this issue should be given a lot of attention in the global policy space? Well it’s not. Until now, NCDs in humanitarian crises have been largely unrecognized and inadequately addressed.

We set out to change this.



A Bootcamp to mobilize young leaders from civil society

Partnering with IFRC, University of Copenhagen and NCDFREE, the Danish Red Cross hosted a Bootcamp in Copenhagen in June. The aim was to put NCDs in humanitarian settings firmly on the global map. Or in short: Make NCDs sexier.

70 vibrant young leaders and established professionals from more than 30 civil society organizations and 15 countries joined efforts in producing policy asks and advocacy campaign ideas.

“By coming together and talking about the common challenges, we have suddenly been able to recognize that we are all facing the same challenges. And just by that recognition it is allowing us to also understand that it is a shared challenge and we can only deal with it communally.” – Carlos Grijalva Eternod, Research Associate at University College London, Bootcamp Participant.




The Bootcamp provided a platform for young researchers, grass-root advocacy activists and humanitarian actors to share knowledge and ideas, thereby building a bridge across very different and often divided disciplines.

“The ethos of the Bootcamp, that you are trying to produce something, is super important. And also, that you bring people together, who tackle this from different angles. I think that the mixture usually creates solutions that are better than if we were sitting on our own behind computer screens and reading reports.” - Troels Boldt Rømer, President at the Danish Red Cross Youth, Bootcamp speaker.

Health and policy experts from IFRC and youth representatives from national Red cross and Red Crescent societies attended the Bootcamp as well (including Kenya Red Cross, Lebanese Red Cross, Palestine Red Crescent and SARC), bringing valuable experience from the field directly into the discussions.

By aiming at mobilizing young leaders for advocacy, the Bootcamp was a unique event of its kind:

“I think that is the most important part. Because we claim there is an increase of NCDs, especially in less developed countries where the majority of the population are young people. They are the ones that will have to deal with this problem in the future. So, they should be the ones to bring the solutions.” – Jared Nyamongo, Head of Advocacy at Young Professionals Chronic Disease Network Nairobi, Bootcamp Participant.



The impact of advocacy

The immediate outcome of the Bootcamp was a ‘Call to Action’ demanding NCDs in humanitarian settings to be recognized and prioritized within the global policy agenda. Early July, IFRC, MSF and a few other organizations highlighted this at an Interactive Hearing at the United Nations, which presented an opportunity to raise priorities ahead of the UN High-Level Meeting on NCDs in September 2018.

“NCD prevention, treatment and care must be integrated into the humanitarian response – and long-term, comprehensive health care should extend beyond the acute phase of an emergency. If we are genuine in calls to provide Universal Health Coverage and to ‘leave no one behind’, NCDs in humanitarian crises simply cannot be ignored any longer.” – Richard Blewitt, Head of Delegation, IFRC delegation to the United Nations,

This statement is a huge win. However, we need to keep the pace and keep pushing for the inclusion of humanitarian settings into the minds of policy makers when we talk NCD prevention, care and treatment. The UN High-Level Meeting on NCDs in September 2018 will, hopefully, show that our advocacy efforts have made a positive impact. But we will continue working on this agenda in the years to come: We will make NCDs sexy.

If you want to know more, please keep an eye on www.rodekors.dk/ncd-bootcamp, where we will share updates over the next few months.