Noncommunicable diseases – A growing threat to public health

In the "Community Action for Health" project in Kyrgyzstan, villagers learn how to prevent illness.
In the "Community Action for Health" project in Kyrgyzstan, villagers learn how to prevent illness. © SDC

Three in five people worldwide die from cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular or chronic respiratory diseases. That makes non-communicable diseases the world's number one killer. Poorer and socially disadvantaged segments of the population are more likely to contract and die earlier from such diseases than people who are better off. That is why the SDC supports prevention measures and promotes access to existing diagnostics and treatment in Switzerland's partner countries.

The SDC's focus

The SDC is working to improve health systems in its partner countries to help them overcome the combined burden of poverty-related diseases (mother and child health, diseases caused by diet or infections) and non-communicable diseases.

SDC-supported programmes prioritise the following:

  • health promotion and non-communicable disease prevention as a cost-effective approach
  • early detection and diagnosis for everyone as an integral part of basic care
  • access to medicine and health technologies to fight and control non-communicable diseases
  • treating mental illness as a non-communicable disease and integrating this heavily neglected area in Switzerland's bilateral development programmes.

The SDC's comprehensive approach includes bilateral programmes and projects alongside active engagement in multilateral organisations such as the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO plays a leading part in the organisation and coordination of international efforts to combat noncommunicable diseases.

In the area of mental health, the focus is on reforms to improve community-based psychiatric services and providing psychosocial support to people who have been through traumatic experiences. This includes women in the Great Lakes region of Africa who have experienced violence and young people affected by AIDS in southern Africa, for example.


Cancer, mental illness, diabetes, and cardiovascular and chronic respiratory diseases such as chronic lung diseases or asthma, are non-communicable diseases. The main risk factors are tobacco consumption, a lack of exercise, alcohol misuse and an unbalanced diet.

Non-communicable diseases have a number of causes, which necessitates a comprehensive approach beyond the health sector in order to address the contributing social, economic and environmental factors.

Each year, 41 million people die from non-communicable diseases, which accounts for 71% of all deaths worldwide. Of these, 85% are attributable to low and middle income countries. This means that non-communicable diseases are not just an issue for affluent societies. In spite of this, only 2% of global health financing is allocated to non-communicable diseases. Investing in the prevention and control of these diseases is vital. It would reduce the number of disease-related early deaths – goal 3 target 4 on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – by a third and help advance universal health coverage. The four main diseases – diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular and chronic respiratory diseases – could be significantly reduced through cost-effective measures for prevention and health promotion, such as balanced diets, exercise and an environment that is less harmful to people's health.

In addition to its know-how and invaluable experience in health promotion, Switzerland also has an internationally renowned pharmaceuticals industry, which has already developed programmes to provide cheaper drugs. SDC systematically promotes private-sector contributions.

Current projects

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Increasing access to patented medicines with the pharmaceutical sector

01.01.2020 - 31.12.2027

2 billion people worldwide do not have access to essential medicines. 50 of these medicines, e.g. for cancer or HIV are patented. The Medicines Patent Pool is a proven mechanism that negotiates with patent holders voluntary licenses for markets in low-income countries which are granted to multiple generic manufacturers. The competition drives down prices but ensures an attractive royalty for the patent holder. SDC supports this voluntary approach to make patented medicines available to people in these countries.

Reducing risk-factors for Non-Communicable Diseases in Ukraine (opening phase)

01.05.2019 - 31.10.2020

Non-communicable diseases are the main cause of mortality and morbidity in Ukraine incurring significant economic costs of inaction. Non-communicable diseases are determined by risk factors, which can be considerably reduced. This invervention aims at creating a conducive policy and regulatory framework for NCDs prevention, increasing preventive care at primary level and at improving health literacy and reducing behavorial risk factors among the population. 

Reducing the Burden of Non-Communicable Diseases in Moldova

01.01.2015 - 30.09.2020

In Moldova, a quarter of the population dies of a Non-Communicable Disease (NCD), such as cardio-vascular disease, before reaching the age of 70. The quality of life of people affected by NCDs is very low, as the health system lacks the capacities to tackle NCDs effectively. The project strengthens primary healthcare service providers’ capacities to better organize care together with social services. Better health will be promoted through engaging communities and local authorities in common actions for NCD prevention and promotion of healthy behaviors.

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