Project HOPE is a recent recipient of the Pfizer Global Health Fellows Program (GHF), an international volunteer program that places Pfizer colleagues and teams on short-term assignments with leading international development organizations in key emerging markets. During assignments, Fellows use their professional, medical, and business expertise in ways that help increase access, quality, and efficiency of health services for people in greatest need.
As about 100 people settled into the Park Hotel in Delhi, India, recently, they walked into a meeting space unlike most others. Rather than a room setup where attendees would face a stage with endless PowerPoint slides, participants’ chairs formed a circle so that they could face each other, even during the opening plenary session. While there was some uncertainty and confusion about the unique setup, that feeling dissipated as the details of Project HOPE´s Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) consultation and the day’s agenda emerged. With this consultation, participants were in charge, not the facilitators. The thoughts, questions, and ideas of those who were in attendance drove the meeting. And it was the responsibility of the participants to capture ideas and questions, and also synthesize findings.
All of the participants were aware of the challenges India faces with NCDs like diabetes and cardiovascular disease and how debilitating the reality on the ground can be. They quickly reached an energetic consensus that the work to solve this problem is not only necessary with regards to public health and human life, but also to ensure India maintains and sustains the robust economic growth it has seen in recent years.
“We figured out how to beat HIV. We can figure out how to beat NCDs, too.”
Having worked at an organization focused on supporting individuals with HIV in the mid 1990’s, I can say that the disease seemed like an insurmountable problem, even in the United States. But seeing how the U.S. and a large part of the world overcame the biggest challenges with HIV, I know India is ready to tackle NCDs. And as the group correctly acknowledged, the diversity and complexity of Indian society requires flexible solutions rather than a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
In his keynote address, Dr. Jitender Singh, Minister of State in Prime Minister’s Office, acknowledged that India has gone from one end of the disease spectrum, malnourishment, to the other, obesity. As he said, disease used to be a “one week affair,” meaning that after a diagnosis was made, a resolution, whether good or bad, came quickly. But with NCDs, solutions must match disease development, so they must be long term and sustainable.
Dr. Singh also pointed out that economic growth will be driven by the health of the population. In India, 70% of the population is under the age of 40, so in order for those people to contribute to the economy, they must be healthy. In the afternoon’s Open Source Technology (OST) session, participants were asked to develop topics of discussion that they would then lead. Within minutes, a number of people had stepped forward to introduce topics important to them, and off the groups went. There were two separate 75-minute discussion sessions on topics like community engagement in healthcare, empowering healthcare workers, and developing sustainable systems to ensure follow up care was available. At the end of both sessions, participants were first asked to vote on the best ideas, then reflect on the experience and share their biggest takeaway from the entire session.
It was a truly inspiring event. And while there are follow up questions, like how stakeholders can continue to work together to take action and inspire action for long-term solutions, the problem is not insurmountable. We know that any action taken will have to be intelligent, sustainable, and flexible enough to adapt to a country of close to one billion people and this consultation enabled leaders in the field to find ways to move toward those solutions.
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