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Women: A Powerful Solution to the NCD Crisis

Women are powerful.

Women are central figures in every family, affecting the health–and future–of children everywhere. Women also shape world policy. We advocate hard for issues we care deeply about. Last year, it was women who made saving lives during childbirth THE issue of the year. Women got world leaders to commit to action. Women’s voices count.

This year women are turning their attention to one of the greatest health and development challenges of the century: chronic non-communicable diseases, or NCDs.

NCDs, which include cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, and lung diseases, kill two out of three people in the world today. These chronic diseases are the leading cause of death for women, and they are affecting our children in greater numbers and earlier in life than ever before. This is intolerable. How did we let NCDs reach this level of crisis?
More importantly, what can we do now?

We at Arogya World have teamed up with other like-minded organizations–Global Health Council, NCD Child, Women Deliver, NCD Action, Public Health Institute, The Max Foundation, Disruptive Women in Health Care, Hriday,–and started the Women for a Healthy Future movement to mobilize women around the world to demand action against NCDs. This initiative is aligned in spirit with Ban Ki-moon’s “Every Woman. Every Child initiative,” which aims to improve the health of hundreds of millions of women and children around the world, and in so doing, to improve the lives of all people. Our first activity is a petition, which went online a short while ago, in which women passionately ask world leaders to reduce the vulnerability of women and children to NCDs.

Why should women sign this petition? Perhaps more bluntly, why should they care?

Women care about NCDs because they have a stake in their child’s future, and in the future of the next generation. They care because NCDs are a matter of social justice. 80% of people who die from NCDs are among the world’s poorest. They care because 18 million women die each year from NCDs. That is, nearly 50,000 women lose their lives to NCDs every single day.

These facts are haunting. But as a woman, you WILL care because you know that statistics are more than numbers. You know that each of these numbers represents a person. A person who can make a meaningful difference in this world.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said, “Success will come when we focus our attention and resources on people, not their illnesses; on health, not disease.” We believe that if we focus our attention on women and children–as people, as valuable contributors to society, as future leaders of the world–success will come indeed.
So, women from around the world, join us. Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and lung diseases have affected more members of my family than I would like to count. I am sure all of you know someone who has been affected by these diseases as well. Help us make change in their honor.

Read our petition. We ask governments, for example, to invest in educating women about the importance of having normal birth weight babies because low birth weight could predispose the baby to cardiovascular disease and diabetes later in life. We ask businesses, as important stakeholders in the NCD dialogue, to dramatically reduce the marketing of tobacco products, junk foods and alcohol to children and young people. And please do consider joining us.

But as we ask the world’s leaders to address NCDs and help women and children secure healthy futures, we know we have a responsibility as well. We can’t sit on the sidelines and watch the NCD crisis explode.

We know that 80% of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and 40% of cancers can be prevented through healthy lifestyles, by eating healthy foods, by not smoking, and by increasing physical activity. And we know the unique role of women in families. Women control the food our children eat. The games they play. We know women can guide individual families to make healthy lifestyle choices. We know the power of women.

Women for a Healthy Future wants to tap into that power. In a little over a month, on September 19th and 20th, world leaders will gather at the UN for a historic summit on NCDs. The decisions they make will impact the lives of millions and determine whether women and children will have healthy futures. Our aim is to get 10,000 women’s signatures to our petition by September 19, 2011, so we can show these leaders how much we care. One family at a time, one community at a time, one signature at a time, we will work with women around the world to change the course of chronic disease.

I believe that as a woman, I am a solution to the NCD crisis. You can be too. Sign our petition today.

Nalini Saligram

This op-ed was posted on The Huffington Post and on Arogya World.

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