UN agencies call for adding NCDs care in humanitarian emergencies

February 27, 2024

Copenhagen, Feb 27 (IANS) Adding noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes — responsible for 75 per cent of deaths worldwide — to humanitarian emergency preparedness may help save more lives, according to a joint report by UN agencies.

Humanitarian emergencies increase the risk of NCDs. Strokes and heart attacks are likely to surge up to three times more following a disaster. However, care and treatment for NCDs are often not included as a standard part of humanitarian emergency preparedness and response, which focus on the most immediate needs, said experts from the World Health Organisation (WHO), and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, at a three-day global high-level technical meeting on NCDs in humanitarian settings being held in Denmark.

The number of crises impacting people’s health has been increasing.

In 2023, WHO responded to 65 graded health emergencies worldwide, up from 40 a decade earlier. Similarly, the UNHCR issued 43 emergency declarations to scale up support in 29 countries — the highest number in decades.

The numbers are expected to soar in 2024.

The UN estimates that 300 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection in 2024 with over half (165.7 million) in need of emergency health assistance.

“People living with NCDs in humanitarian crises are more likely to see their condition worsen due to trauma, stress, or the inability to access medicines or services. The needs are enormous, but the resources are not,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in a statement.

“We must find ways to better integrate NCD care in emergency response, to protect more lives from these avoidable tragedies and improve health security,” he added.

NCDs remain a neglected aspect of humanitarian responses, with significant gaps in technical and operational guidance, lack of capacity and resources, said the experts.

To address this, many countries have included policies and services for the prevention and control of NCDs as part of their efforts to strengthen health systems to better prepare for, respond to, and recover from health emergencies.

However, much more needs to be done, said the experts.

“Some specialised services such as dialysis or cancer care require specific planning and adaptations during emergencies, and more insights are needed to better integrate NCDs into emergency preparedness and response.”


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