Visual notes from the joint advocacy session on Women and NCDs
Visual notes from the joint advocacy session on Women and NCDs © Tracey Berglund

NCDs and RMNCAH: A shared agenda at Women Deliver 2016

19th May 2016

Today marks the end of the 4th global Women Deliver conference, the world’s largest global conference on the health, rights, and wellbeing of girls and women. For the first time, Women Deliver has featured a number of sessions on NCDs – perhaps signaling a change in thinking within the RMNCAH (Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child, and Adolescent Health) community that, as a result of the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it’s time to acknowledge that NCDs are very much a core component of the RMNCAH and women’s agenda.

Common themes emerged over the course of the week, including partnership, integration, transparency, accountability, and the need to view women and girls not as beneficiaries, but as agents of change to determine their own fates.

"Women are not dying of diseases we can't treat... They are dying because societies have yet to make the decision that their lives are worth saving." - Mahmoud Fathalla, past president of the International Federation of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

This quote embodies the spirit of the Women Deliver conference – we know what must be done and we have the tools to ensure health, rights, and wellbeing of girls and women -  it is long past time to act. This sense of urgency was carried throughout the week, with speakers and delegates alike projecting a tangible sense of activism and engagement.

NCD Alliance, together with Management Sciences for Health and Novo Nordisk, hosted three sessions highlighting the synergies between the NCD and RMNCAH agendas, advocacy methods for joint action, and the power of youth engagement.

In addition to these sessions dedicated to the issue of NCDs as a whole, there were several sessions on cancer, diabetes, and women. These sessions highlighted issues of cervical cancer and gestational diabetes as traditional entry points for NCD and RMNCAH integration, but equally highlighted the lack of acknowledgement that other NCDs and risk factors, such as air pollution and lack of physical activity, significantly impact the physical and mental health and wellbeing of women and girls.

NCD Sessions: Making the Case for a Shared Agenda

The first of our sessions, Tackling NCDs: The Key to Improving the Health of Women and Girls, set the stage for why NCDs are a growing public health burden for women and girls, and how a comprehensive, lifecourse approach can drastically improve the health and wellbeing of women and children.

“We need to stop blaming women and girls for being fat; must make leaders change the dialogue on diet and exercise and reexamine the relationship with institutions.” – Veronica Magar, Director Gender, Equity & Human Rights, WHO


Jonathan Quick kicks off an informative session_WD2016 Blog Picture 1

Jonathan Quick kicks off an informative session with Florence Guillaume, Former Minister of Public Health & Population, Haiti; Maisha Hutton, Executive Director of the Healthy Caribbean Coalition; Veronica Magar, Director Gender, Equity & Human Rights, WHO; Charlotte Ersbøll, Corporate Vice President, Novo Nordisk


Joint Advocacy

The following advocacy workshop session engaged participants in interactive discussions on successful advocacy strategies and campaigns to unite the RMNCAH and NCD agendas. This dynamic discussion featured case studies of successful joint NCD and RMNCAH advocacy initiatives in Brazil, the Caribbean, Uganda, and Rwanda, and demonstrated that joint advocacy is, in fact, doable and effective.

Paula Johns discussing the importance of clear messaging WD2016 blog Picture2

Paula Johns, Executive Director of Act+ Brasil discussing the importance of clear messaging when involving women’s activism groups; Crystal Lander, Senior Director of Policy, Advocacy & Communications, Management Sciences for Health; Maisha Hutton, Executive Director, Healthy Caribbean Coalition; Katie Dain, Executive Director, NCD Alliance.


Panelists stressed the need to ensure messaging is tailored to fit the environment in which we are working, such as Paula Johns’ experience working with feminist groups in Brazil to promote tobacco control.

“For feminist groups, the word ‘control’ holds a certain stigma, and to advance the anti-tobacco agenda, we had to change our messaging. We had to show these women that tobacco control meant fighting the powers that oppressed women.” -Paula Johns, Act+ Brasil

Following these presentations, four delegates from Women Deliver’s Young Leader program facilitated table discussions where participants explored key components of joint advocacy. These amazing, dedicated youth delegates then presented the outcomes of their discussions, stressing that we need specific, targeted messages that fit our intended audience; integrate NCDs into existing platforms; promote universal health coverage (UHC) as the means by which we can achieve integration; and utilize social media to gain momentum.

Youth table facilitators WD2016 blog Picture3

Youth table facilitators Hashim Hounkpatin, Benin Medical Students Association & Federation of African Medical Students Associations; Muhammad Khalid Rao, National Youth Council, Dance4Life Pakistan; Nsovo Mayimele, Junior Public Health Association of South Africa; and Joannes Paulus Yimbesalu HOPE for Children Cameroon; leading discussions on elements of joint advocacy programs.


Visual notes from the joint advocacy session on Women and NCDs WD2016 blog Picture4

Visual notes from the joint advocacy session on Women and NCDs

Engaging Youth 

The last of the three sessions on NCDs and RMNCAH, Engaging Youth for a Healthier Future: The NCD Perspective, highlighted how youth engagement is critical for successful action on NCDs. The session explored how to engage youth in NCD advocacy, and highlighted several case studies of youth activism .

“Youth can be, and are, activists and leaders for NCD advocacy.

Youth learn when youth lead.” - Mychelle Farmer, Senior NCD Advisor, Jphiego

WD2016 blog Picture 5

Adebisi Adenipekun, Leader, Lighthouse Global Health Initiative; Bente Mikkelsen, Head of the Secretariat, Global Coordination Mechanism on the Prevention and Control of NCDs, WHO; Vivien David Tsu, Associate Director Reproductive Health Program, PATH; Mychelle Farmer, Senior NCD Advisor, Jphiego; Marina Hilaire-Bartlett, Executive Director, Population Services International - Caribbean

This interactive session involved active participation, as audience members were asked a number of questions related to myths and facts about NCDs and RMNCAH.

Audience interacting with panel WD2016 blog Picture6

Audience interacting with panel

To further elevate NCDs as part of the women’s agenda, NCD Alliance joined the Taskforce on Women and NCDs in the conference’s exhibition hall, where we engaged with the over 5,000 delegates, many of whom had never before heard of NCDs. Delegates from Uganda, Nigeria, Pakistan, Denmark, Canada, and many more countries visited the booth and learned about the connections between NCDs and RMNCAH, many of them pledging to take this information home to their communities and organizations and work for integrated care across the lifecourse.

Though there is still quite a long way to go until we see a true convergence of the two agendas, this year’s Women Deliver conference has left many NCD advocates with a glimmer of hope, that perhaps finally, we will be able to turn our rhetoric for integrated action for RMNCAH and NCDs into tangible action. Concerted action is required from traditional women’s groups, who must first acknowledge that NCDs are an essential component of women and children’s health programs.

Our hope for the future is for NCDs to be seen as a part and parcel of the whole women and girls’ agenda, that addressing women’s health and wellbeing across the lifecourse with evidence-based interventions for NCD screening and prevention deserve attention from women’s groups, and, for a dedicated plenary on NCDs to be held at Women Deliver 2019.  


About the Author 

Priya Kanayson (@priyamvadak) is Advocacy Officer of the NCD Alliance, where she leads the Alliance's advocacy efforts on integration of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) with HIV/AIDS and Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health (RMNCAH). Based in New York City, she works closely with United Nations Permanent Country Missions, Agencies, and multistakeholder partners to advance the NCD agenda. Priya’s interest in maternal and child health and global public health more broadly stemmed from her time working in a local clinic in Maharashtra, India. Priya holds a Master of Public Health from New York University.