By Cristina Parsons Perez, Director of Cancer Advocacy, American Cancer Society Global Health Department
Washington, D.C. — The Task Force on Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs) and Women's health, organized its first joint activity during the 2012 International AIDS Conference in D.C. by co-hosting a session on 'Women, HIV and NCDs: making the links and moving to action'. Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), which include cancer, diabetes, heart disease and chronic respiratory illnesses are responsible for 63% of deaths globally and take a devastating toll on women in developing countries.
The American Cancer Society is a founding member; co-chair and secretariat of the Task Force. High level panelist speakers at the event held on Sunday afternoon included: Peter Piot, Director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and former executive director of UNAIDS; Sally Cowal, CEO of PSI; Peter Lamptey, President Emeritus of FHI 360; Peter Drobac, Rwanda Country Director of Partners in Health and Nana Oye Lithur, human rights lawyer and activist from Ghana. The Session offered a concrete way to actively engage the HIV/AIDS community on cancer and other NCDs.
The panel, moderated by Laurie Garrett, Senior Fellow of the Council on Foreign relations, acknowledged and discussed the serious burden of NCDs in women living with HIV and acknowledged the opportunities available to take action highlighting current on-the-ground experiences in integrating services. Peter Piot mentioned the alarming rate of increase in NCDs, even in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, and how the tackling of the HIV epidemic is unmasking the NCD burden in low-income countries.
Cervical cancer was highlighted as a serious health issue for women living with HIV and integration into sexual and reproductive health services was highlighted as one of the first opportunities for service integration being explored. Discussions on integration of services also emphasized access to universal healthcare; working with private healthcare providers, and exploring packages of NCD prevention and treatment services at HIV testing-and-screening sites as well as treatment centers.
Panelists noted that countries that have invested in tackling infectious disease and HIV specifically have already done heavy health system investing that can be leveraged for NCDs. The existence of low cost interventions for tackling NCDs were highlighted but panelists also underlined the need for increased resourcing for NCDs. The panel concluded that urgent action is needed, with concrete policies as well as pilot projects to explore best practices in integration. A strong civil society advocating for action would be the crucial element to underpin this urgency. To support the continued engagement with the HIV/AIDS community, the Task Force launched a policy brief on Women, HIV, and NCDs.