29 May 2012
Copenhagen NCD meeting links South and North experiences
Evelyn Kaabule, Margaret Komuhangi (background) and Benny Bugembe Naumgwanya are three of the six members of the Ugandan Parliament who have formed a specific NCD-forum to incline the government to upscale national efforts against NCDs.
Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and respiratory diseases, can destroy a country’s economy and that is why international movements currently are working hard to put health on the agenda at Rio +20 – The UN conference on sustainable development in June. In Denmark the work has already begun. End of March, African NGOs and politicians met up with representatives from Danish business life, universities and civil society to form new partnerships to prevent NCDs. Contacts and funding opportunities were matched between South and North for the Stakeholder Action Meeting organized by Copenhagen School of Global Health and the Danish NCD Alliance.
On 19-20 March the Danish Cancer Society in Copenhagen hosted an unusual company. During the two days African NGOs and politicians met Danish politicians, researchers, NGOs and business life to bring home contacts and ideas for their work on prevention of NCDs. At the same time Danish NGOs and business life had the opportunity to exchange experience with the determined participants who had paid their own tickets and travelled up to 6000 km to find solutions to one of their home countries greatest health challenges.
Margaret Komuhangi from Uganda took the plane to Copenhagen to gain input for the political health agenda in the Kampala Parliament. She is a politician and works on the committees of budget and national resources, and in November she formed a parliamentary forum for the prevention of NCDs together with five fellow members of the parliament. The six members, all women, come from various parliamentary posts but they share one thing: a serious concern about how chronic diseases are rapidly increasing.
“We formed this forum in order to put focus on the great challenge Uganda is facing because of the rise of chronic diseases. We need a national strategy to stop this development and put pressure on the government to allocate a budget for prevention of NCDs. An important part is to bring Uganda’s health institutions together and empower their cooperation“, explains Margaret Komuhangi and clarifies what she has brought home from Copenhagen:
“The Danish health programme is very comprehensive and we can learn from this. It covers many aspects, even environmental concerns and education targeted at youth, and we need to do something similar in Uganda. We must think far broader than just on health when we plan to reduce and prevent NCDs,” stresses Margaret Komuhangi.
Learning from the major health issues in Denmark
Similar to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Cameroon who were represented at the Stakeholder Action Meeting, NCDs is a huge health burden in Denmark. The Danish Diabetes Association recently estimated that treatment of diabetes alone costs 2 percent of the Danish health budget. According to Susanne Volqvartz from The Danish NCD Alliance, this is exactly why Denmark can form partnerships with countries in the global South on prevention of NCDs.
“NCDs are a major health problem in Denmark, which is also the reason why the national medical industry, researchers, civil society and policy makers have reached an advanced level in finding solutions. For example legislation is applied to promote health, e.g. the food fat tax introduced in October 2011, smoking regulations and access to screening. Health promotion is also an integrated part of city planning for instance prioritizing bicycle lanes and sport opportunities. We are obliged to share these experiences with countries that need it, and this is the case for many developing countries. NCDs are about to tip the poor countries’ economic development”, explains Susanne Vollqvartz.
In March, together with Copenhagen School of Global Health, Susanne Volqvartz organized the NCD Stakeholder Action Meeting in Copenhagen, and now she is pushing hard to make sure that the many good contacts established also are put into use. One of the Danish participants, who took home contacts and perhaps tasks was Nicolaj Stenkjaer from Nordic Folkecenter:
“My colleague Lene Høgh and I presented lamps and stoves that can reduce indoor smoke and thus prevent lung diseases. The lamp also works as a sun-cell-driven mini generator which can produce enough electricity to charge a cell phone. During the action meeting we got in contact with several potential collaborators. I talked to a Danish doctor who plans to work with stoves in Rwanda but lacks practical experience with this topic. I also talked to the Danish Red Cross who has quite a few problems using major sun cell systems, and I think they could benefit from our much smaller scaled sun cell devices“, says Nicolaj Stenkjær.
Research and civil society work together
The partnership between civil society in Global South and North is one of the cornerstones to stem the rise of NCDs. The Danish NCD Alliance works closely together with Copenhagen School of Global Health, where Professor Maximilian de Courten teaches about how chronic diseases can be prevented in low-and middle income countries as well as in Denmark.
“Research can contribute to qualifying or upgrading the public health initiatives that already are running or drafted. We want to maximize the cost-effectiveness of these initiatives and by linking research to the health projects, politicians and NGOs get a far more comprehensive knowledge about what works on a long term. For instance, we are currently working together with Danida and the Health Ministry of Zanzibar to collect data about NCDs and their risk factors. This gives the local politicians and NGOs knowledge to act upon, “points out Maximilian de Courten and adds that research also put single projects into a bigger and necessary context: “Prevention of chronic diseases will only succeed when we also work outside the health sector“, stresses Prof. de Courten.
With facts civil society can prioritize their work in the direction where it gives the best results. And this also goes for politicians, stresses Susanne Volqvartzs. A charter was developed at the Stakeholder Action Meeting to highlight the need to increase focus on NCDs and health in general in Denmark’s overseas development programs. It was recently handed over to the Danish Ministry for Development, and Volqvartz encourages him to use this in Rio in June:
“We must put health and NCDs on the agenda at Rio+20, for we cannot fight poverty without containing the chronic diseases, which are a true threat to the fragile economies. The good news is that the fight for better health, a sustainable environment and less poverty goes hand in hand, if we want to see results“, says Susanne Volqvartz.
Text: Kathrine Storm