Making the Voices of 10,000 Women Matter for Preventing Disease

By Nalini Saligram, CEO of Arogya World.

I am the mother of two beautiful young women, and what I want more than anything else is to help them put their best foot forward in life. My wish for them—and I know all mothers everywhere have similar wishes for their children—is that they live up to their potential. That they lead happy, healthy, productive lives—and contribute to make others lives better.

But I know their generation—my daughters are in their mid-twenties—will bear the brunt of the crisis that is changing the face of global health as we know it. Their generation is getting diabetes in their 30s. And cancer in their twenties. Yet these diseases, non-communicable diseases (NCDs), are largely preventable. According to the World Health Organization, 80 percent of heart disease, 80 percent of diabetes and 40 percent of cancer cases can be prevented with three lifestyle changes: avoiding tobacco, eating healthy food, and increasing physical activity.

I believe very much in the power of prevention, especially because there is a chance to improve the health and futures of our children. Arogya World, the non-profit I founded four years ago, is committed to advocating globally for NCD prevention. We leverage global platforms and partnerships to make a measurable impact in the fight against the increasingly rapid spread of these diseases.

Though NCDs are the world’s number one killer of women, data on women’s views of NCDs are scarce. Data is important to get policymakers to listen, Arogya World rallied a coalition to set about gathering the perspectives of 10,000 women—1,000 women from 10 different countries—on the impact NCDs make on their everyday lives.

The survey used mobile and online technologies to reach the women, who countries from different continents and levels of economic development: Afghanistan, Kenya, Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Africa, Mexico, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.

The coalition included Novartis, the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease, the American Cancer Society, UNICEF, Population Services International, Abt SRBI and Jana. Together, we brought the issue to the global stage by making a Commitment to Action at the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting.

This week, country delegations travel to New York to attend the United Nations Review on NCDs, which will assess the progress the world has made in the past three years in the fight against these largely preventable diseases. Arogya World will be there, sharing preliminary survey results this Friday, July 11, with government leaders, UN agencies, global health and development agencies, women’s health advocates, NCD groups and civil society, at a side-event co-sponsored by the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.

Several important insights are emerging from our quantitative survey. Not surprisingly, women from around the world said NCDs have a significant affect their everyday lives:

  • 2 out of 3 women said they or someone in their household had NCDs
  • Half of the women in our survey said they were caregivers

One insight we unearthed has struck me: how much more the pain of NCDs is felt most in less developed countries, particularly from a financial perspective.

  • About 30 percent of the women in Brazil, India, Kenya, South Africa, and Indonesia spend more than 25 percent of household income on treatments for NCDs
  • Four in 10 women pay doctors directly for their healthcare or borrow money from friends and family to pay for it. This is a bigger problem in some countries—including Kenya, India, and Afghanistan, where six in 10 women shoulder the burden of their healthcare in this way.
  • Two in 10 women said caregiving for family members with NCDs limited their ability to work.

In addition to the quantitative research, we are also gathering women’s experiences with NCDs on video. We will formally launch the full report of the survey’s findings and these videos this September during the Clinton Global Initiative.

NCDs are not esoteric rare diseases that affect “someone else.” They affect women and families just like us. This project is helping to put a human face on NCDs.

We believe women are a powerful solution to the NCD crisis. In most cultures women make decisions about the food their families eat and can be empowered to steer their own families to healthier living. So that my daughters, and yours, and their families, can be healthy and happy, let us pledge today to use these 10,000 women’s voices in our own spheres of influence, and help our leaders and readers realize how important addressing NCDs, especially for women, is to the sustainability of the world.

NCDs have become a crisis. It’s time to claim responsibility for fixing them so that our children can grow up to live healthy, productive lives, delivering on their potential. I have had a front row seat in the NCD movement, and I am pleased to say that is rapidly gathering momentum. I call on women everywhere to join me on this journey, and use the quantitative data and women’s voices on video to move policy-makers’ hearts and minds, and spur them to action.

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