During an online meeting held on 22 September, Dr Kremlin Wickramasinghe, the Acting Head of the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of NCDs, presented a guidance document seeking to bring systems approaches into practice, titled “Systems thinking for noncommunicable disease prevention policy”. In addition, a factsheet, which introduces key concepts in systems thinking and examples of its approaches utilized in NCD prevention policy was also released on this occasion.
The authors of the report, Tarra L. Penney and Chloe Clifford Astbury, from York University (Toronto, Canada), stressed that the systems approach for prevention of NCDs remains challenging, considering that despite significant investment, many public health challenges persist. However, they emphasised that the systems approach was conceptualising health inequalities as emergent properties of a complex system of interdependent factors and was encouraging a shift in the way of perceiving them.
In this context, it was emphasised that the use of systems approaches for health and disease prevention was growing and evolving rapidly. Therefore, the guidance document recently released is intended to present a range of approaches with accompanying case studies to illustrate practical applications in NCD prevention policy and to provide decision support for selecting a system method that can be put in place. Three key characteristics stemmed from the report: the need to facilitate stakeholder ownership, communicating process and findings clearly, as well as accessibility and inclusiveness.
While a few panellists agreed on the importance of generating capacity-building, others insisted on the need to issue relevant data on the daily routine impact on NCDs. A representative from the University of Limerick (Ireland), presented the progress achieved in addressing inactivity levels in Ireland and shared a recent use of a systems approach to increase physical activity.
Annually, 41 million deaths (equivalent to 71% of all deaths) are attributed to NCDs worldwide. In this context, the WHO’s Global Action Plan on Physical Activity 2018-2030 states that “regular physical activity is proven to help prevent and treat noncommunicable diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and breast and colon cancer”. EuropeActive is working, on a daily basis, to get “more people, more active, more often”, through a large variety of actions, such as the #BEACTIVE DAY campaign.