Norway has become the first country to launch a strategy to tackle so-called ‘lifestyle’ diseases as part of its international aid work.
In 2020, the Scandinavian government will allocate over 200 million Norwegian Krone of international development assistance – roughly £17 million – to help low and middle income countries tackle non-communicable diseases including cancer, obesity and diabetes.
The move comes amid growing concern at the rising burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) worldwide. These conditions are driven not by infections and viruses but by behaviour – for instance poor diet, smoking, drinking and a lack of exercise.
Norway’s move is likely to be followed by other government’s international aid departments over the next few years.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 70 per cent of deaths worldwide are now associated with NCDs and experts are worried about a rising burden in low and middle income countries.
In Africa, the proportion of all deaths caused by NCDs is predicted to rise from 35 per cent to 50 per cent by 2030.
But according to the Norwegian government, prevention and control of NCDs currently receives only about one per cent of health-related development assistance – though it is likely that this will shift in the coming decade.
“Worldwide, 41 million people die each year as a result of respiratory disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, mental disorders and other NCDs,” said Dag-Inge Ulstein, Norway’s minister of international development.
“This cannot continue. Therefore, Norway will triple its assistance to fight NCDs, allocating over 200 million Norwegian Krone to these agendas for 2020.
“This is just the start, we will step up funding towards 2024,” he said.
The government added that investment would be based on the World Health Organization’s 16 “best buys” to prevent and control NCDs. These include schemes to restrict tobacco and alcohol sales as well improving diet and restricting salt and sugar intakes.
“If these were implemented, over eight million lives could be saved annually by 2030,” said Bent Høie, Norway’s minister of health. “There would also be a total savings of $US 7 trillion in low and middle income countries over the next 15 years.”
He added that the policy, titled ‘Better health, better lives’, would help countries to reach the ambitious targets set out in the Sustainable Development Goals.
Commenting on the announcement Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO, thanked Norway for their “leadership in this important area”.
“Non-communicable diseases are the leading killers of our time,” he said. “As is so often the case, the world’s poorest bear the heaviest burden.
“The risks of dying between the ages of 30 and 70 from a heart attack, stroke, diabetes, cancer or asthma are four times higher in most countries of Africa than in Norway.”