Oslo – Norway has launched a milestone “Better Health, Better Life” strategy to combat deadly non-communicable (NCDs) diseases as part of its international development assistance. This makes Norway the first to develop a strategy for combating this large and growing global health threat, which currently receives only about 1% of international health assistance.
Global public health has changed significantly since the start of the millennium. There has been a substantial reduction in the percentage of people who die from communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, polio, AIDS and malaria, in part due to successful vaccination and treatment programmes as well as other measures. The same is true of child mortality. Today, non-communicable diseases are the biggest killers worldwide, with the most prevalent being cardiovascular diseases, cancer, respiratory diseases, diabetes and mental disorders. This also applies to those aged under 70, which is defined as premature death.
In recent years, we have seen a strong upward trend in the number of deaths from noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) in low-income countries. In Africa, the proportion of NCD deaths, as compared to total deaths, is expected to increase from around 35% today to over 50% by 2030. Certain risk factors increase the likelihood of developing these diseases: tobacco, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diets, insufficient physical activity and air pollution. Tobacco and air pollution are the two risk factors that cause the highest number of deaths. The Norwegian Government wishes to contribute to the battle against non-communicable diseases in low-income countries. This work will be included in health related development cooperation and will help achieve several of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The strategy sets out a plan for this work for the period 2020 to 2024. This strategy positions Norway to play a leading role in expanding work on NCDs in international development and health policy as well as ensuring practical action in low-income countries. The Norwegian initiative will focus on the following three main areas:
Preventing and reducing risk through concrete measures across sectors to prevent disease and premature death, where regulation, taxation and multi-sectoral measures will be important. The initiative will target risk factors, focusing on children and young people.
Strengthening primary health care by improving prevention, diagnosis and treatment of noncommunicable diseases, and ensuring everyone has access to health care subsidised by the public authorities.
Strengthening global public goods, including normative work, access to health data and health information, digitalisation and research.
The strategy is based on the important principles that underpin the SDGs and our development policy. This means that the poorest and most vulnerable will be reached – no one will be left behind – and that everyone is entitled to good health.
The strategy comprises measures within most of the priority focus areas in Norwegian development policy, with emphasis on health, education, sustainable food systems, climate and environment, renewable energy, humanitarian work, people with disabilities, digitalisation and good governance.
The strategy builds on experience from Norwegian public health work where everyone has access to health services, and from aid and development cooperation. It focuses on low-income countries in particular, and advocates an approach that helps to achieve the SDGs and to implement the World Health Organization’s (WHO) global action plan for the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases. As well as having consequences for the individual, non-communicable diseases also negatively affect a country’s economic development. It is particularly important to prioritise actions in a manner that protects people from health threats and ensures fair and equal access to health services based on universal health coverage. This will result in the greatest health benefit. This is in line with the declaration on universal health coverage adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2019.
There is global consensus on the measures needed to prevent and control non-communicable diseases and to reverse the negative trend. We need to fight NCDs and turn a global crisis into a success story. Norway wishes to contribute to this goal, and to save millions of lives, ensure people enjoy better health throughout their lives and encourage positive economic development in lowincome countries.