Tuesday, 9 May 2017

A multi-pronged offensive against NCDs in rural Ethiopia

Since the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment resulted in the creation of the Stockholm Declaration, there has been widespread international consensus that the approach towards developing the planet and caring for those who inhabit it should incorporate a considered and equitable approach. 

Much has changed in the years since then, but many of the principles in the declaration hold true today, even if they have yet to be fully realised. As the World Health Assembly meets, many of these global priorities will be brought to the fore, not least and certainly not soon enough, the burden of Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) will be discussed.

NCDs are now the leading causes of death globally, and nearly three quarters of deaths due to NCDs occur in low and middle income countries. Unlike communicable diseases these cannot be prevented by an injection or by access to clean water, instead they have complex and multi-factorial etiologies which make them all the more challenging to combat in resource poor situations.

In 2015, the modern manifestation of the Stockholm Declaration, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), were adopted and boldly outline 17 goals to be achieved by 2030. Particularly relevant to addressing NCDs is SDG 17, which calls for:

“Strengthening the means of implementation and to revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development”

This requires all actors to collaborate towards building the capacity for low income countries to address their own needs and requirements. A coordinated and broad approach that addresses economic, educational and geographic inequalities is required. This is not a task that one organisation is able to tackle alone.

THET in partnership with the University of Southampton and University hospitals in the districts of Jimma and Gondar, Ethiopia are an example of the multi-stakeholder partnerships dedicated to fighting NCDs. Clinical volunteers from the UK have spent time with their counterparts in Jimma and Gondar as well as with the Federal Ethiopian Ministry of Health (FEMOH) resulting in the training of nurses and health workers to staff rural health centres. This has led to the cost free diagnosis and treatment of NCDs such as diabetes, epilepsy and hypertension in rural and poor regions where historically there were none.

These contributions have resulted in a multi-pronged offensive against NCDs in rural Ethiopia, targeting poor health literacy, the lack of appropriately trained and located health staff and the absence of reachable diagnostic and treatment methods.

These results have been achieved at the same time as strengthening the capacity of the Ministry of Health, and provide the type of professional development and opportunities to health workers in order to combat the brain drain of health workers to developed countries in search of remittance work.

For a single organisation, the task of relieving vulnerable populations from the burden of NCDs on a global scale may seem insurmountable; for in all likelihood it is. However, many hands make light work; and in today’s globally connected community there has never been a better opportunity for those with the will and ability to synergise and achieve the ambitious goals we have set ourselves.

Toby Gilbert,
Country Programmes Volunteer,