Here is a question that we should all know the answer to:

What is the world’s greatest opportunity to save and improve lives by 2030?

The answer may surprise you - it’s preventing and treating noncommunicable diseases, or NCDs. The most common ones include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, cancers, and mental health conditions. But there are hundreds of others like eye health conditions, oral health diseases, chronic kidney disease (CKD) and thyroid conditions.

Together, they account for 41 million deaths each year - that’s 74% of all deaths in the world - and 15 million of these are occurring in people between the ages of 30 and 70. They also cause 80% of disability in the world, and take a catastrophic toll on the economies of countries and households. And the toll of NCDs is rising fast - most of all in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Why?

It’s because most NCDs share a common denominator: the risk factors that provoke and aggravate them.

The main NCD risk factors are tobacco and alcohol use, unhealthy diets, physical inactivity and air pollution.

As exposure to these risk factors rises, so does the prevalence of NCDs.

This has been especially visible in LMICs, where these risk factors began commonly appearing just three to four decades ago. Now, they are a part of life for most people in the world. In all countries regardless of income status, the poorest and most marginalized communities are the most exposed to NCD risk factors - and therefore, the most at risk of NCDs and their consequences.

This higher exposure is not usually the result of individual choice, but rather the result of social and structural determinants. For instance, physical inactivity is often the result of not having safe or appealing outdoor areas, an unhealthy diet may be due to the prohibitively high cost of fresh foods compared to ultra-processed ones, and exposure to air pollution often comes from using unsafe cooking fuels in poorly ventilated areas, a common practice in developing countries. Health-harming industries, like those producing tobacco, alcohol, ultra-processed foods and breastmilk substitutes, also seek out marginalized groups with aggressive marketing tactics, in relentless pursuit of “new markets” to be exploited.

The good news is that these risk factors can be modified through collective action - and progress is being made all the time. You’ll hear about it in this podcast series, where advocates and activists share their struggles and triumphs as they work towards a world where everyone enjoys an equal right to health.

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Health policy victory is sweet in Barbados

Sugary drinks are a major driver of the global epidemic of chronic conditions like obesity and diabetes. One way to keep consumption under control is through fiscal policies like taxes on these health harming beverages. Francine Charles from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Barbados was at the frontline of the effort to move the Barbados sugary drinks tax increase forward. In this interview, she explains how they did it and how they are now working to see the implementation of diverse healthy food policies to reduce chronic disease and build a healthier population.

The worlds best ever investment opportunity?

Lack of resources and investment in NCD prevention and care is costing the world millions of lives and dollars each year. Yet, there are powerful and cost-effective actions that countries can take to turn the tide on NCDs. In this interview, NCD Alliance CEO Katie Dain shares her views and expertise on how we can close global health’s biggest funding gap. She reveals why investment in NCD prevention and control is the world’s biggest opportunity to save lives and money by 2030.

A landmark plan for chronic diseases in South Africa

South Africa recently launched The National Strategic Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases, 2022-2027. Dr. Vicki Pinkney-Atkinson is Director of the South African NCD Alliance, which worked with the government over eight years to complete the document. In this interview she describes how difficult it was for people living with NCDs to have their voices heard when the new plan was being prepared and the challenges facing its implementation, including lack of resources. She also stresses that NCD activists were determined to followed the path made by the HIV/AIDs movement.

My NCD story, Our NCD story

People-centred healthcare occurs when people, not their conditions, are placed at the heart of health services, programmes and policies. In this episode, Johanna Ralston, CEO of World Obesity Federation, and former CEO of the World Heart Federation, speaks to her experiences of living with noncommunicable diseases for over 30 years. From being silent about her experience at the very beginning, to learning to speak and leverage the platforms around her, Johanna's journey has brought her to advocate for the meaningful involvement of the lived experience in decision-making. Johanna – a leader in the global NCD movement – talks about the improvements in resourcing and prioritisation of NCDs in the policy landscape, but she also knows we’ve still a long way to go.

Closing Global Health's Biggest Gap

Chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease cause 41 million deaths per year, or 74% of all deaths globally. Out-of-pocket health costs are often catastrophic, driving millions of people into poverty every year. Yet they are the most underfunded global health issue. In this podcast, we hear from diverse NCD champions on the urgent need to close this funding gap - and solutions that can make it happen, like fiscal policies for health, innovative partnerships and integrated care. In the lead up to the Second Global NCD Financing Dialogue that will take place in 2023, the time is now to put our minds together and take a new approach to global health financing.

This podcast highlights five voices from NCDA's event: NCD financing as the foundation for healthy societies and economies.

  • Rachel Nugent, RTI International
  • Paul Fife, Director of the Department of Human Development, Norad
  • Dr Omary Ubuguyu, Director for Curative Services, Ministry of Health, United Republic of Tanzania
  • Dr Kelly Henning, Public Health Programme Lead, Bloomberg Philanthropies
  • Dr Vuyiseka Dubula Majola, Director of the Africa Centre for HIV/AIDS Management, South Africa


Motivating a population to move

Efforts to make people worldwide more physically active have stumbled. Five years ago the world’s countries adopted the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Action Plan on Physical Activity (GAPPA). But putting it in place “has been slow and uneven, resulting in little progress towards increasing population levels of physical activity… and a reversal of progress in several key areas,” says a new WHO progress report . One of the main issues is that governments’ efforts often are not well coordinated, says Fiona Bull, Acting Director and Programme Manager in the Department of Prevention of NCDs, in this episode of Voices of the health revolution. Ways to get the GAPPA back on its feet include investing in “health-enabling environments” so that individuals aren’t left on their own to become more physically active, and supporting governments to take broad-based actions that encompass other ministries beyond those responsible for health and physical activity.