The Corporate Council on Africa CEO Stephen Hayes on engaging the private sector in the fight against NCDs
With the forthcoming High-Level United Nations Summit on Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) in New York next week, NCDs are gaining global recognition as a threat and burden to low-income countries’ economies and development. NCDs – namely cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes – kill more people than AIDS, TB and malaria combined. In Africa, the WHO estimates that chronic diseases will surpass infectious diseases as the leading cause of death in many African nations by 2020, and in recent years, as many as 80% of deaths from NCDs have been in low- and middle-income countries. More members of the policy community and the private sector need to be made aware of this fact. Chronic, non-communicable diseases can no longer be considered “diseases of the wealthy.”
The historic UN High-Level Meeting on NCDs presents a tremendous initial opportunity to mobilize heads of government and world leaders, civil society and the business community around the challenge of preventing, treating and controlling NCDs in developing countries, including the nations of Africa. Many of The Corporate Council on Africa’s partner organizations and members have been actively involved in global efforts to mobilize participation in this event. We are especially pleased to commend and support the activities of the NCD roundtable of the Global Health Council.
In April, the WHO/AFRO Region’s leadership and the continent’s ministers of health produced the Brazzaville Declaration, which expressed their deep concern for the rising prevalence of NCDs on the continent, declaring it a “significant development challenge.” This is why CCA has endorsed the policy recommendations document published by the Global Health Council, entitled “Global Leadership, Local Solutions: Mobilizing for NCDs,” and will dedicate a workshop to this topic at our upcoming U.S.-Africa Business Summit in October.
As a recent report published by Edelman stated, to fully address the growing burden of NCDs, the private sector must be part of the solution, a sentiment echoed by UN General Secretary Ban-Ki Moon earlier this year when he said “[combating NCDs] requires political vision and resource mobilization across sectors, across ministries and across borders.” Moon specifically referenced the business community’s importance to the issue, and not just the health industry. Companies working in Africa have a vested commercial interest in fostering healthy workforces and local populations, which are essential for driving higher worker productivity, building a strong consumer base and sustaining one’s investments through continued innovations and thriving business operations.
As the report notes, the private sector is uniquely adept at producing innovative ideas and identifying tangible solutions for managing and controlling health challenges. A few companies are starting to recognize and address this problem in their African operations. For instance, Chevron has already rolled out cardiovascular health programs for its Nigerian and Angolan workforces. Medical technology companies are looking at innovative models for how advanced life-saving devices and technologies can be used in developing countries in ways that make financial sense for the company, the provider and the patient.
Over the long term, a robust NCD response in Africa would also offer opportunities for firms that offer health information solutions, insurance schemes, pharmaceutical distribution and supply chain management or those that offer innovative models and competencies for improving health care delivery. NCDs are a cross-cutting issue, with implications for agriculture, food security, the food and beverage industries and others. Particularly in Africa, it is important that these players are at the table with policy-makers and offer their perspectives – and potential solutions.
The international community does not have to start from scratch in mobilizing a multi-sectoral response to address NCDs. To use resources as efficiently as possible, stakeholders should draw upon the lessons learned from the HIV/AIDS and tobacco control responses. The rise of NCDs in Africa is an urgent health challenge, and we applaud the efforts of CCA partners and friends, such as the Global Health Council, the American Cancer Society and the AFRO Regional Office of the WHO.
The UN Summit is merely a first step. For many African countries and other low-income nations, this is not an emerging issue but an epidemic that needs long-term and urgent attention. I encourage all CCA members and other business partners to learn more about this historic and rapidly growing global effort to combat NCDs, and explore ways to lend their technologies, core competencies and resources to help control and mitigate the impact of NCDs in Africa. I do not doubt that interested parties will find new business opportunities and strategic partnerships in doing so.
Stephen Hayes is the president and CEO of The Corporate Council on Africa. This piece was based on an article published in the June Edition of the Africa E-Journal.