NCD Alliance - Board

NCD Alliance: From a dream to a real, standalone NGO

21 June 2017

Cary Adams, Chief Executive Officer
Union for International Cancer Control (UICC)

On 22 May, in conjunction with the 70th World Health Assembly, the NCD Alliance became a standalone NGO. Following this recent landmark occasion, UICC’s CEO Cary Adams shares his perspective as one of the first to be involved in this project.

In the early part of 2009 the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) approached UICC and the World Heart Federation (WHF) with a proposal to join forces as a non-communicable disease (NCD) alliance. The aim was to get NCDs on the global health agenda by having a UN High-level Meeting similar to the one on HIV/AIDS in 2001 which had galvanised global action. With this view in mind, the NCD Alliance was launched at the World Health Assembly in May 2009 with a side event calling on the health community to take NCDs seriously. Eight years later, the NCD Alliance is no longer an informal alliance but a brand new standalone legal entity. Launched on 22 May 2017, it is led by a new Board who were elected at the first General Assembly held in Geneva, Switzerland, where the NGO is based. 

Sticking to a shared ambition, no matter what

I count myself as one of the longest supporters of the NCD Alliance having first met Ann Keeling from IDF and Helen Alderson from WHF in my office in September 2009, soon after I joined UICC, when they outlined their cunning plan to achieve world domination! At that time, the thought of having two UN High-level Meetings on NCDs (with a third due in 2018), the agreement of nine global targets for NCDs and NCDs being included in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), seemed far-fetched to be honest. I don’t think we really believed that so much could have been achieved so quickly, but the ambition to make sure that NCDs were not the forgotten diseases in the global heath and development agenda inspired our community, our teams and our Boards.

With the entry of The Union to our gang in 2010, our voice became louder and louder. We had detractors. We were criticised. But we had a clear ambition and we worked diligently towards our goal.

I recall that I was in Lyon, France at a dinner when news came through that the Caribbean countries had somehow managed to secure a UN commitment to have a High-level Meeting on NCDs in New York in 2011. This was May 2010 and immediately we had to organise ourselves so that our advocacy delivered a high-level meeting with teeth. We wanted heads of state to attend and an outcomes document which was specific, ambitious and committed all countries to take material action. I don’t think we got what we wanted but the outcome document catalysed action across the health community. It did lead to a new Global Action Plan for NCDs and the agreement to the infamous ‘25by25’ NCD target (a 25% reduction in premature mortality from NCDs by 2025) which popped out of the World Health Assembly in May 2012. 

At times, it felt that our advocacy efforts were having no effect. Other times it appeared that everything was falling into place.

What we did do well was to be consistent, belligerent and at no time did the NCD Alliance and its partners stop pressing for ambitious agreements.

When some argued for three NCD targets, we were saying that ten was not enough. We actually ended up with nine. When some argued that the Alliance should stick with the four NCDs, we opened our doors to the Alzheimer’s, dementia and mental health community. When others criticised us for partnering with the private sector we argued that we would walk the talk of taking a multi-sectoral approach. It was exhausting and frustrating at times, but the people we represented had no voice in the international health and development arena so we had to shout loud. We had a duty to them at all times.

Building solid foundations

At the end of 2012, I had the honour of becoming Chair of the NCD Alliance. Some things had to change and they did. We established our long-term strategy, published a business plan, recruited great people, created a financial model which gave us sustainability and set out to build upon the wins of 2011 with more UN focus and follow-up. Today the NCD Alliance sits proudly as the representative of NCDs for civil society globally with more than 50 regional and national NCD Alliances in place. It has a wonderful supporter group and a team which is world class by any measure, led by the outstanding Katie Dain.

And today after many, many months of negotiation, a brand new NGO has been born which will drive the agenda forward at global and national levels on behalf of all people committed to reducing the avoidable death and disability caused by NCDs.

On 22 May in Geneva, the NCD Alliance's first General Assembly was held, dissolving the existing Memorandum of Understanding which bound the alliance partners together for eight years. In its stead emerged the new NGO with a formidable Board of Directors, Constitution and an exciting future ahead.

Eight years ago, Ann Keeling imagined a world which took NCDs seriously. She envisaged an Alliance which would bring the silos together and lead on making global change happen. We have all worked to deliver that vision and I could not be prouder to see this wonderful organisation become a standalone NGO with a glowing future ahead of it.

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About the author

In 2009, Cary Adams made a career change, moving from the management of international businesses in the banking sector to become CEO of UICC based in Geneva. Cary and his team focus on global advocacy, convening the cancer community (through World Cancer Day, the World Cancer Congress and the World Cancer Leaders’ Summit) and running significant global capacity building projects that address global cancer issues.

Last update: 
Thursday 22 June 2017