Fighting Noncommunicable Diseases: How Physicians Can Help

Neil W. Schluger, MD


September 15, 2011

In This Article

What Can Physicians Do?

Everyone, including pulmonologists, can help. Even though global coordination and targets for reducing NCDs have been deferred, individual governments have at least agreed to develop their own plans and the medical community will have a responsibility to contribute its expertise to that process. As the frontline of lung health intervention, we are strongly placed to both feed into policy and ensure it is implemented effectively.

While national plans don't require international negotiation, they do require political will. Pulmonologists can use their influence to promote a policy environment that improves lung health. We can advocate for better smokefree policies, graphic pack warnings, and tobacco taxation.

We can promote reforms of frontline patient questionnaires to include smoking discovery questions and add brief advice about cessation. Institutionalizing such policy and patient-level interventions can have a population-level impact. We can and should act directly with legislators and indirectly through our professional associations.

Our advocacy need not only be at home. It may be surprising to some, but smoking cessation and public health policies are not standard by any means in many low- and middle-income countries. Neither are there established preventive and early detection methods that could catch asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease much sooner. We can also reach out to colleagues in other countries to build out these frameworks, share what works, and help promote a culture of advocacy.

At a macro systems level, we also face a global shortage of healthcare professionals, and a particularly severe shortage of pulmonologists, especially in developing countries. Part of our advocacy must be to help raise awareness, and to recruit and train more medical professionals into the specialty in order to help bridge this urgent, critical need. Some pulmonologists may even consider taking temporary or permanent positions in other countries in order to build skills at a local level.


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