Today, April 7th, marks World Health Day 2016, a yearly event that gives public health advocates a unique opportunity to raise global awareness for a key health issue. As a former Minister of Health, scientific researcher and lifelong advocate, I look forward to this day with great anticipation. Few occasions give us such a platform to enliven discussion and coordinate action for health on a truly global scale--inspiring change from the smallest community health clinics to the most prominent boardrooms. This year, we are all talking about diabetes.
For one, diabetes wreaks havoc on the world in increasing numbers. The World Health Organisation estimates that 9 percent of the world's population currently has the disease. It is the direct cause of 1.5 million deaths annually, 80 percent of which occur in low- and middle-income countries.
Second, diabetes causes substantial financial loss for individuals, their families and national economies. And third, it joins a multitude of other non-communicable diseases (NCDs)--cardiovascular disease, hypertension, common cancers--that signal a new pandemic.
Diabetes can be successfully prevented and managed by a healthy lifestyle. When not managed, it can lead to severe organ damage and death. In too many countries, this choice is not up to the individual; it is dependent instead on the quality of regional, country-level and international health systems. And recently, we have seen the weaknesses of those systems laid-bare as even the world's developed countries have struggled to address and contain pandemic health threats.
During my tenure as Minister of Health of Ethiopia from 2005 to 2012, we achieved tremendous progress in tackling the many infectious diseases prevalent in resource-poor countries such as my own. But we also planned for the future, making holistic investments across the entire health system with our national government at the head. We built integrated health information systems and critical infrastructure, and flooded the system by developing and expanding the number of skilled workers at all levels. In short, we built a health system for the country we aspired to be, one that could meet diverse health challenges.
Not surprisingly, our successes in reducing infectious diseases coincided with a rise in NCDs--diabetes among them. More people are alive to develop chronic illness, and increasing economic strength enables many to practice the same poor health behaviors that made NCDs commonplace in high-income countries for generations.
On April 7th and in the days and weeks that follow, we should take the occasion to converge and intensify our efforts to meet the ambitious targets of the sustainable development goal of reducing premature mortality from diabetes and other NCDs by 2030 in all countries--rich and poor alike.
This will require investments to build holistic, resilient and responsive health systems, and the implementation of evidence-based public health approaches, taking the lessons we gained from our fight against infectious diseases and employing them to address non-communicable diseases on a global scale.