By Takanori Sato, Director / Geneva Liaison, Global Public Affairs, Takeda and Co-chair, Access Accelerated Steering Committee  


As world leaders convened for the 77th UN General Assembly last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched the noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) data portal. This public platform offers an eye-opening and much-needed illustration of the NCD burden and risk factors in 194 countries. Alongside the launch, the agency released a report, Invisible numbers, the true extent of noncommunicable diseases and what to do about them, that provides a sobering reminder of the human cost of NCDs.


The report confronts the harsh reality that NCDs have reached a crisis point. NCDs claim 41 million lives every year, 84% of which occur in low- and middle-income countries. Continued inattention and underinvestment, combined with increasingly unhealthy lifestyles and an ageing population, mean that NCD-related deaths are expected to continue to soar.  


It certainly paints a grim picture, yet there is good reason to have hope–and to take action. For example, it’s well within countries’ power to reduce NCDs, whether that’s by implementing policies shown to reduce tobacco smoking and the harmful use of alcohol or delivering vaccination and screening programs for the human papillomavirus and cervical cancer. In fact, the WHO report singles out four areas of action to prioritize when confronting the worldwide NCD crisis: building the political will to act on NCDs, implementing proven policies and interventions, strengthening healthcare delivery, and identifying and protecting those people who are most at risk of NCDs.


Partnerships a cornerstone of progress 

That’s why Access Accelerated–a first-of-its-kind industry collective–works closely with partners, national governments, and civil societies to ensure a “whole of society” approach that accelerates progress and ensures the biggest possible impact.  We know very well that collaboration is fundamental to taking effective action on NCDs, but as an industry, we must do more than talk the talk. We must walk the walk.


The 2021 Access Observatory Annual report examined active access programs across 104 countries in 2020, and found that all but a handful of the 61 programs had partnered with at least one other organization. In fact, the average number of partners per program was close to four, with a total of 240 unique partners across all of the programs. What’s more, the report showed that companies played an active role–well beyond simply contributing funding–by providing important support to various planning and implementation activities. 


In addition to working with partners, most programs also reported engagement with local stakeholders: 70% of programs reported engagement with local governments, over 50% engaged with local NGOs. This level of local embeddedness is key to building the political will needed to act on NCDs and, in the long run, ensuring program sustainability. Common to nearly all programs was the focus on Health Service Strengthening and Health Service Delivery, including conducting screenings and providing diagnosis and treatment. These strategies clearly align with the priority areas of action outlined in the WHO report, helping to ensure that collective efforts are pulling in the same direction and are able to accelerate progress. 


In total, industry-led access programs are reaching millions of people living with NCDs. The Access Accelerated Open Platform, shows that a total of 121 member programs since 2017 are helping to address at least 30 NCDs–including cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and mental health–in 106 countries, benefiting an estimated 182 million people worldwide. 


Moving into the future with purpose 

It’s important to celebrate the progress we’ve made–to show that meaningful progress is indeed possible–but much more remains to be done and the clock is ticking. As the world cautiously emerges from a global pandemic that has threatened health systems and destabilized economies worldwide, only a handful of countries are on target to fulfil the Sustainable Development Goals by the 2030 deadline. 


One encouraging sign comes from the newly formed Global Group of Heads of State and Governments on NCDs, who launched a Global NCD Compact 2020-2030 this year. A flagship initiative of the WHO Department for Noncommunicable Diseases, the Compact has lofty goals: to improve NCD outcomes around the world and to save 50 million lives by 2030.


It’s a critical step forward at a time when we as industry, governments and civil societies, simply cannot afford to ignore the alarm bells. As the WHO report reminds us, we face a clear moral and economic imperative to respond to NCDs–to not only take decisive action but to do so with as much urgency and shared purpose as we can muster.