Print version ISSN 0042-9686
Bull World Health Organ vol.80 n.2 Genebra Jan. 2002
Renaming the NCDs
Editor It was with interest and pleasure but concern that I read Vol. 79, No.10 of the Bulletin of the World Health Organization devoted to noncommunicable diseases. As a resident of the "South", I am delighted that this subject receives attention that highlights not only the valuable lessons but also the harmful influences that can emanate from the North.
My concern arises from the continued use of terminology that dulls the senses to the urgency of the problems involved. I note that the occurrence of keywords such as "pandemic" and "epidemiological transition" in the editorial, "epidemic" in reference to cardiovascular disease, and "lifestyle" in many contributions has become commonplace.
In my country and in various forums such as the WHO Regional and Global Advisory Committees on Health Research, I have long argued that there are new pathways conveying pathogenic influences to the mind and body and turning them into harmful behaviours and hence disease, on a par with the insect vectors of communicable diseases. These are electronic "vectors" (radio, television, and the Internet) and print media, and peer pressure across nations. There are now more subtle and sophisticated methods of using communication with high-pressure presentation and advertising techniques to force compliant behaviour by readers whether the general public, children, or potential consumers of the products and services being promoted. Yet at the same time there is widespread acceptance of the dangers of noncommunicable diseases and the effects of lifestyle on them (and also on other causes of ill-health such as diabetes, most malignancy, accidental and non-accidental trauma, and family breakdown).
The urgency that ought to pervade this subject is lacking. I think the term "noncommunicable diseases" is so dull that it deadens our perception, and I suggest that the words are consigned to history or a very small bit of the present, and that the name neocommunicable is used for the bulk of the conditions under consideration. This does not even involve a change in the acronym: NCD could still be used though NeoCD would be better, but the new nomenclature would subconsciously instill a sense of urgency. I hope my suggestion will instigate debate on this matter and help to stimulate action.
Conflicts of interest: none declared.