Expert insight

The Global Action Plan on NCDs: an Opportunity to Transform Theory into Reality?

10 June 2013
  • Mario Ottiglio

During the recent World Health Assembly, there was a lot of discussion on how to realize tangible progress against non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which today lead to more than 60% of deaths worldwide. WHO Member States nailed down a focused and solid global action plan that should guide them towards the achievement of ambitious targets for the prevention and control of diseases that take enormous personal and societal tolls.

I was extremely fascinated by this debate for one key reason. Now more than ever, the global health community needs to translate into real action a concept that we have heard (and said) many times: solving some of the issues related to NCDs requires a collaborative approach, involving the whole of government as well as the grand wealth of resources lying outside of government buildings. Sir George Alleyne, the former director of PAHO who has written a lot about the need to foster healthcare collaborations, recently provided some important views on this.

In a recently-published paper[1] co-written with Sania Nishtar “Sectoral cooperation for the prevention and control of NCDs,” he defined a multisectoral approach as a collaboration between different agencies – say government agencies – where each approaches a common issue with its own perspective and resources. If you look at the risk factors for these diseases – smoking, unhealthy diet, alcohol abuse, and lack of physical activity – it’s clear that we need to have around the same table the people and organizations dealing with health, education, energy, agriculture, sports, transport, communications, urban planning, environment, labor, employment, and industry. Their mandates might be very different, but the assumption is that their peculiar goals, skills, and assets can be combined to improve health. All players, also those not traditionally associated with health, need to be taken it into consideration if we want to bring forward tangible solutions. An example could be the finance ministry’s decision to raise tobacco taxes not only because smoking contributes to disease but also for fiscal reasons.

Going further, Alleyne and Nishtar defined “intersectoral” cooperation as the interactions among three main actors – the public sector, the private sector, and civil society. Regardless of how effective governments are, they need to combine their efforts with other actors: solving the NCDs puzzle requires an extra mile – resources and competencies – that is only possible when other partners are involved too. For example, the expertise of healthcare professionals, the scientific know-how of industry and academia, the advocacy skills of civil society groups are all important elements that, whencoupled with political support, can lead to creative solutions and progress. The more you look at the issues related to NCDs, the more you realize intersectoral cooperation is badly needed.

In this context public-private partnerships have indeed emerged as significant mechanisms for achieving global health objectives. In fact, this was widely recognized in the UN Political Declaration signed in 2011 by UN Member States. This document calls for intersectoral approaches that link different partners and sectors in modern, pragmatic, non-traditional fashions. In this spirit, we at IFPMA and our partners at the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) have established an innovative NCD partnership that we believe will have a significant impact. This modern and pragmatic partnership addresses a key aspect of NCDs – prevention and wider health literacy concerns. We will develop an innovative yet easily-to-use toolkit to help three million people in low- and middle-income countries to prevent NCDs and to become advocates themselves for behavioral change by going beyond awareness raising alone to also facilitating others’ behavioral changes.

As a representative of the private sector, I can only be optimistic. In the last decade, the private sector has accepted social responsibility models and the theory that business, in general, does well by doing good. A recent concept of shared value represents at best the change: this proposes that the competitiveness of a company and the well-being of its community are mutually dependent and that there is an intimate connection between societal and economic progress. Everyone has something

important to contribute to reducing the suffering that NCDs inflict. The complexity of NCDs requires us all, I believe, to think very differently from the past. With agreed and transparent rules of the game, partnerships based on common objectives and complementary expertise can be key to finding the creative and effective approaches that are needed to stop NCDs.


[1] Addressing the Gaps in Global Policy and Research for Non-Communicable Diseases.

Authors include: Brian White-Guay, Lisa Smith, Prashant Yadav, Soeren Mattke, Margaret Kruk, Felicia Knaul, Gustavo Nigenda, Sir George Alleyne, and Sania Nishtar. Jeffrey L. Sturchio and Louis Galambos served as editors.


  • Mario Ottiglio