Geneva, Swizterland
Geneva, Swizterland

GENEVA, Switzerland –

In October 2013 GHEF held its second annual, international symposium at the John Knox Centre in Geneva, “Chronic Diseases and the Equity Challenge.”

GHEF invited participants from around Europe to present on the topic of non-communicable diseases, a growing threat to global health and health equity.

Presenters were prompted to consider The Lancet’s February 2013 focus on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and present innovative research and experience with the topic. Non-Communicable Diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes – were once thought to be diseases of affluence – have risen dramatically in the developing world. GHEF launched the symposium from the organization’s position that the United Nation embed NCDs in the UNDP post-2015 development agenda.

The active day-long symposium included fourteen presenters, presentations by GHEF’s Scientific Coordinator and President. The presentations were filmed and are available on the Symposia page of this site.

Presenters covered a range of topics from genome research to the legal options for mitigating health equity, but they broadly raised and sought to address the following questions:

  • Why are Non-Communicable Diseases worthy of attention?
  • How do NCDs impact health equity and what are appropriate responses?
  • What is a holistic approach to chronic disease and health equity and why is it important?
  • How can we mitigate the inequitable effects of Non-Communicable Diseases?


Highlights from the presentations:

Why are Non-Communicable Diseases worthy of attention?

Participants all introduced their presentations by defining the threat that NCDs play to global health and health equity. NCD rates are higher in disadvantaged and marginalised people and communities than in groups with higher socio-economic statuses, as the poor are more likely to be exposed to NCD risk factors, which in turn leads to health inequity by creating unfair distribution of opportunities in life.


How do NCDs impact health equity?

Dr. Xenia Scheil-Adlung, a Health Policy Coordinator at the International Labour Office, explained that the world’s poor have fewer resources to manage NCDs and lack access to care and treatment, especially primary care. Primary care is critical as it can effectively reduce some NCD risk factors. The problem is even worse in countries with inadequate car or no universal health coverage. This inequity is reflected in the diseases’ outcomes.


What is a holistic approach to chronic disease and health equity and why is it important?

Several of the presenters, such as Dr. Karen Newbigging of the University of Birmingham), criticized current health policies and campaigns against NCDs as too focused on the individual. Dr.  Newbigging blamed the “lifestyle management” for detracting attention and energy away from social and political inequalities that underpin lifestyle behaviors and deflecting responsibility from society and governments to address those social inequalities.


How can global health and other professionals mitigate the inequitable impact of Non-Communicable Diseases? 

Many presenters offered case studies of their work with network and community-based approaches to health inequity which focus on communal means of mitigating NCDs rather than individual. Dr. Keller from Montana State University, presented a community-based media project in Montana that was conceived with GHEF Founder and President Dr. Tayeb Al-Hafez that worked on teen suicide awareness and prevention by developing new social networks. Dr. Keller’s research aimed to understand how those networks influenced teens’ self-seeking behavior for depression or mental health issues. Other case studies from Pakistan, the Middle East and the U.K. gave insight into replicable and scalable options for health equity in the face of rising NCDs.


The presentations generated lively debate and discussion about the best way forward. Participants agreed that organizations like GHEF, which tackle health equity in a holistic way, are critical to promoting the necessary discussion around and progress in health equity. The event culminated with a cocktail reception and music.

GHEF has published “The Global Health Equity Foundation Annals” which captures essays from the 2013 and 2012 international symposia. This publication is a new and momentous undertaking that we have decided to produce yearly, following each symposium. it is available to the public. Please check back to download it when it becomes available.