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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GAIN - Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition

01.01.2023 - 31.12.2027

Climate change, Covid-19, conflicts are reversing progress on malnutrition, underlining the growing urgency to transform food systems to tackle human development and planetary needs. Switzerland supports GAIN’s activities with governments, businesses, civil society and partners to ensure consistent access to affordable, safe, nutritious and sustainable food for healthier diets, in particular for the most vulnerable, through more inclusive policies and regulations, effective markets and innovative financing.

Community-Based Chronic disease Care Lesotho (ComBaCaL)

01.12.2020 - 31.12.2025

Non-communicable chronic diseases (NCDs) are the number one cause of death globally. There is a lack of scientifically validated prevention and care models in low- and middle-income countries. This research project, combining research excellency from Switzerland and Lesotho, will develop, test, validate, improve and up-scale an innovative eHealth NCD prevention and care model in health facilities and communities in Lesotho and beyond.

Shkollat për Shëndetin (SpS) - Schools for health

01.10.2019 - 28.02.2025

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) account for the highest mortality in the country. The program aims to reduce the exposure to the major risk factors for NCDs through improvement of lifestyle practices in schoolchildren and communities. Municipalities will be supported to develop sustainable models for health promotion and healthy environments at school. Cooperation between Ministries of Health and Education will be strengthened to establish framework conditions conducive to health.

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