SEATTLE, Washington – So eloquently stated by Columbia University public health professor Ezra Susser, “Mental health is both the most neglected and the most beautiful field in global health.”
Upon attending the Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH) meeting in Seattle this past week, I was struck by several things: the push to shift the perspective of global health away from medicine to become more interdisciplinary; the clear need to guide the stampede that has become the university interest in global health; and most remarkably, the call to give non-communicable diseases (NCDs) their due space in the spotlight of the global burden.
During the meeting, several speakers mounted slides showing the global burden of disease. They also displayed slides of funding allocations. What was immediately apparent is that the proportions did not match up. While infectious diseases, particularly HIV/AIDS, showed monumental funding, other diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and mental health, suffered significant shortcomings, while representing majority chunks of the burden pie.
When challenged with this discrepancy, several speakers responded in terms of “prioritization” and “emergency” issues. It is true, communicable diseases spread more rampantly than non-communicable ones. But should this affect the way we prioritize our programs?
In addition to more information on the burden of diseases like mental health, perhaps we need more research and subsequent media on the impact that chronic diseases have on infectious disease to shift the spotlight. But it seems that with the upcoming UN Summit on NCDs in September 2011, we might finally have a forum to amend the lack of prioritization these diseases have endured. We need to recognize the extent to which NCDs are no longer a burden of the developed world and develop a strategy for prevention, care and treatment that can be applied to the developing world, just as we’ve had to do for issues like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
One can only hope this prospect is not a fairy tale. All things considered, Cinderella does become a princess after all, doesn’t she?