For Immediate Release
February 23, 2011

Dr. Paul Farmer, Dr. Agnes Binagwaho and Dr. Gene Bukhman to discuss how to tackle non-communicable diseases in the world’s poorest populations.

Listen to a recording of the February 23 media call on the player below:

BOSTON – On a press conference call this afternoon, Dr. Paul Farmer (co-founder of Partners In Health and Kolokotrones University Professor at Harvard), Dr. Agnes Binagwaho (Permanent Secretary of the Rwandan Ministry of Health) and Dr. Gene Bukhman (Director of the Program in Global Non-communicable Disease and Social Change at Harvard Medical School) discussed why treating non-communicable diseases in resource-poor countries must be a global health priority. On the call, they shared examples from Rwanda and other developing countries that prove prevention and treatment of NCDs among the poor is possible, affordable, and can be effectively integrated into a comprehensive strategy that strengthens public health systems.

The call took place in advance of a conference next week (March 2-3), The Long Tail of Global Health Equity: Tackling the Endemic Non-Communicable Diseases of the Bottom Billion at the Joe Martin Conference Center on the Harvard Medical School campus. At that conference, experts are gathering to focus on how to address a collection of important, but rarely discussed diseases of the poorest populations: endemic non-communicable disease.

Several key quotes are listed below, and the full audio of the call is available above. If you are interested in attending the free NCDs conference next week, please contact Meredith Eves at meves@pih.org or 617-998-8945. The full conference proceedings will also be streamed on the web.

Dr. Gene Bukhman on importance of tackling NCDs: “Until recently, it’s been perceived that these disease are very difficult to tackle in the poorest countries. The needs are enormous. There’s an enormous burden of highly prevalent conditions like HIV, diarrheal disease, children continue to die at a high rate before age 5, women die in childbirth, and there’s been a question about how possible in the midst of that it is to address this collection of diseases, which are more complex perhaps, and less prevalent individually, but for which there are amazing interventions. Because of the focus (this year) on NCDs globally, this is an opportunity to gather together and focus the world’s attention on how it’s possible, now more than any other time in human history to be able to reach the poorest people in the world who have these conditions and who deserve interventions for prevention and treatment and palliation as a human right.”

Dr. Agnes Binagwaho on service delivery: “Infectious disease will not account for all of [Rwanda’s] morbidity and mortality. Our service delivery still has several gaps as non-communicable disease, which probably accounts for about 35% of the national burden of disease, according to the WHO, has yet to be addressed in a systematic way…Non communicable diseases are often considered the problem of middle and high-income countries. I want to stand strongly against that…. In general, non-communicable diseases in our country are linked to malnutrition, infection… and lack of access to health care…We need to identify and find the right set of integrated strategies… to prevent and treat non-communicable diseases in a holistic manner. It is very important because infectious disease, chronic disease and non-communicable diseases hurt the same members of our community and also the service will be delivered to them by the same health professionals in the same health centers…We can do a lot if we focus on those things  and everything it is not costly. There are some parts of the program that are costly. But we have to ask ourselves, 'What is the moral cost of doing nothing.' ”

Dr. Paul Farmer on health system strengthening: “You can use a vertical programs like an AIDS program or even a cardiac surgery program to strengthen health systems. For example: A good cardiac surgery program would improve the quality of surgical care in general. Not just for one disease… Better operating rooms, better supply chains, better trained surgeons…Let’s use these vertical programs to strengthen health systems in general…If you look at cervical cancer, if you have a good vaccination program, that you use to vaccinate for polio, to prevent polio, measles, or tetanus, it is a delivery system for the cervical cancer vaccine, Gardasil. And so we’re trying to use this principle also to drive forward our advocacy work as well as to why it’s important to take on these neglected NCDS.”

The March 2-3 conference is hosted by Harvard Medical School, Partners In Health, the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the Harvard School of Public Health, the Harvard Global Equity Initiative, the Global Task Force on Expanded Access to Cancer Care & Control in Developing Countries, and the NCD Alliance. The meeting will bring together experts about conditions such as rheumatic heart disease, Burkitt’s lymphoma, malnutrition-associated diabetes, and the respiratory impact of household fuels. The conference will also feature leaders in global health financing and individuals with experience treating non-communicable and infectious disease among the world’s poorest people. Speakers include Paul Farmer, Dean Jamison, K. Srinath Reddy, and Peter Hotez.

About PIH: PIH is an international medical organization committed to improving the health of the poor and marginalized. PIH challenges the standards of what’s acceptable – and raises the standards of what’s possible – in some of the world’s poorest communities through a model of research, service and training. We work with local and international partners to increase life expectancies by providing people access to modern medicine, strengthening public health systems, and addressing the root social and economic causes of poor health and disease: lack of access to clean water, healthy food, stable housing, education and economic opportunity. PIH works in 12 countries around the world.