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Globalizing the Fight Against Non-Communicable Disease

Global health organizations and initiatives have traditionally focused on infectious diseases, from malaria (their great failure) to smallpox (their greatest success). But there is an urgent need to tackle less compelling but equally deadly non-communicable diseases, especially in low- and middle-income countries.

MONTREAL – Global health organizations and initiatives – and, in particular, the World Health Organization – have traditionally focused on infectious diseases, from malaria (their great failure) to smallpox (their greatest success). But there has long been a tiny corner of global health that has targeted chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). As these countries make progress on development, pressure to expand that corner is mounting.

The WHO started paying attention to NCDs in the 1970s, when it launched its first programs to reduce cardiovascular disease. By 1977, the organization had a designated NCD division. In 1985, the World Health Assembly adopted resolution WHA 38.30, calling for member countries to elaborate new strategies for addressing their NCD problems.

Two programs were initiated: one serving Western Europe and another, called Inter-Health, which focused on a mix of countries, from Chile and Tanzania to Finland and the United States. The goal of Inter-Health was to coordinate a set of experimental local projects, in order to develop a flexible program template applicable to countries at different stages of development.

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