Talking NCDs with the American Cancer Society

We had a surprise interview opportunity in the Digital Media Lounge today! Dr. Leonard Lichtenfeld, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for the American Cancer Society, sat down with a group of us for nearly an hour to talk about NCDs, cancer, social media, and #socialgood. He was an interesting and inspiring person to speak to, with a strong belief in the power of social media to connect and empower individuals.

A few highlights from his comments, before I run to the next session:

Overseas, one of the greatest challenges (which many in global health are aware of) is the dearth of skilled personnel and human resources for health. And even where there are qualified personnel, particularly surgeons, cancers are caught too late for surgery to be an effective intervention due to the limited availability and accessibility of screening.

There is always a question of limited resources for health priorities – we saw it with HIV in the prevention versus treatment debate, and could see it in the NCD space. The money needed for good prevention and screening will always be less than what you need for treatment though, making a compelling argument for investing in screening. In developing countries, we will likely see some of the same need for reduced costs drugs and treatment that we saw around ARVs, and have even seen the same pressures here in the US; high cost and experimental treatments are out of financial reach for many Americans, though we’ll see what happens as the arena changes in 2014, as the Affordable Care Act comes into play full force.

A consistent refrain from developing country representatives at the UN General Assembly regarding how to best combat NCDs was, “Don’t tell us how to do it. Work with us.” Similar to what we’ve heard regarding other global health programs, where governments want to have a stake in how the limited funds available are used.

Social media is a nimble means of reaching out and connecting to individuals, either through organizational blogs and sites or more personal content. You have to be careful what you say, to make sure you’re representing yourself or your organization correctly, but it’s a fantastic space to connect and find a sense of community. Survivors can share stories and connect with others, organizations can share credible information around topics where they have expertise, and you have the chance to connect with others who you may have never met other wise.

And perhaps, most important for youth, you have to maintain that optimism. Believe in the possibility of change, and change that you can see within your lifetime. Look at tobacco control: who would have ever believed that bars and restaurants in cities like New York and Paris would be smoke free? But they are, and that’s because people believed in and advocated for positive change.

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