By Lauren Sydoruk

An international team of researchers led by Curtin University has recommended a set of priority actions to help improve global health policies focused on integrated prevention and management of non-communicable diseases.

The research report, released today, analysed 44 global policies from 30 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Member States to provide a snapshot of the current policy trends and priorities related to prevention and management of non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, lung disease and diabetes, in developed countries.

Lead author Professor Andrew Briggs, from the School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science at Curtin University, said non-communicable diseases represent one of the most significant threats to global health, human capital and economic prosperity.

“Non-communicable diseases are usually long-term conditions that result from a combination of genetic, physiological, environmental and behavioural factors, accounting for more than 60 per cent of the total global burden of disease,” Professor Briggs said.

“Our findings suggest that current global policies strongly support the prevention and management of non-communicable diseases and focus clearly on the promotion of population health, supporting citizens to make healthy choices, and reducing disparities in access to appropriate care for non-communicable diseases.

“Most countries have policies that focused on cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory conditions and mental health. We identified that although musculoskeletal conditions, such as chronic back pain, were considered explicitly by some countries, there was still a significant gap in terms of prioritised attention towards musculoskeletal health. This is despite musculoskeletal conditions accounting for the largest share in global disability.”

The report identified that a stronger focus is needed to address conditions that have a high risk of morbidity. Some countries such as Australia, Canada, Denmark, Poland and Slovakia had policies that focused on ‘any’ chronic condition, which could implicitly include musculoskeletal health.

The key recommendations outlined in the report include integrating musculoskeletal health conditions into health policies that target non-communicable diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, lung disease and diabetes.

It also suggests communicating with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other global and national agencies to guide appropriate prevention and management initiatives, as well as monitoring national population health outcomes to collect further data on high-burden health conditions.

Co-lead Professor Helen Slater, also from Curtin’s School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science, explained that the increasing prevalence and impact of non-communicable diseases present a substantial risk to the global population and without significant intervention at multiple levels of the health system this risk will only increase.

“It is important to expand the focus on non-communicable disease prevention and management to also include disability reduction, especially in terms of musculoskeletal conditions, to align more closely with evolving global population health needs,” Professor Slater said.

“It is important to also examine health policies in countries outside the OECD, which include low and middle-income countries. Monitoring a wider selection of health policies is critical to ensure health policies are in line with evolving global health needs.”

The full report and list of recommendations can be found online here. Professor Briggs and Professor Slater also published research on this topic in BMJ Global Health, which can be found online here. The research was funded by the Department of Health in Western Australia.