30 Nov, 2018

The underestimated nexus between migrants and NCDs

by Alessandro Aresu

This month the UN General Assembly will host its third High-level meeting on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Caused by external factors such as sunlight, nutrition, pollution and lifestyle choices, the most common NCDs are cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancers and chronic respiratory diseases. The September 27 High-level meeting is expected to issue a “call to action”, agreed by Member States, which can include recommendations on how to tackle NCDs such as the adoption of targeted fiscal policies on sugar-sweetened beverages to reduce the consumption of unhealthy products and thus tackle obesity, which ranks among the key factors that contribute to NCDs development. According to WHO statistics, NCDs are collectively responsible for almost 70% of all deaths worldwide, with low- and middle-income countries resulting particularly affected and despite the general misperception that NCDs are to be considered as diseases prevalently of the rich.

For people living in crisis or emergency situations, in fact, the risk can be much higher: with armed conflicts and other situation of violence driving millions of people from their homes worldwide, the management of NCDs becomes a truly daunting challenge. Furthermore, it’s quite easy to underestimate their burden on migrants, given the greater emphasis placed on other kind of infectious diseases and the perception that those who migrate are generally healthy compared to non-migrant populations both in sending and in receiving countries. These are just some of the causes that have transformed the NCD-migrants connection into a hidden crisis, which requires more comprehensive knowledge about risks and patterns of its diffusion, as well as a coordinated and multi-stakeholder approach to be successfully tackled. The next General Assembly’s High-level meeting would do well to draw attention also on these often-neglected issues.