Medicalization of global health 3: the medicalization of the non-communicable diseases agenda

Glob Health Action. 2014 May 16:7:24002. doi: 10.3402/gha.v7.24002. eCollection 2014.


There is growing recognition of the massive global burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) due to their prevalence, projected social and economic costs, and traditional neglect compared to infectious disease. The 2011 UN Summit, WHO 25×25 targets, and support of major medical and advocacy organisations have propelled prominence of NCDs on the global health agenda. NCDs are by definition 'diseases' so already medicalized. But their social drivers and impacts are acknowledged, which demand a broad, whole-of-society approach. However, while both individual- and population-level targets are identified in the current NCD action plans, most recommended strategies tend towards the individualistic approach and do not address root causes of the NCD problem. These so-called population strategies risk being reduced to expectations of individual and behavioural change, which may have limited success and impact and deflect attention away from government policies or regulation of industry. Industry involvement in NCD agenda-setting props up a medicalized approach to NCDs: food and drink companies favour focus on individual choice and responsibility, and pharmaceutical and device companies favour calls for expanded access to medicines and treatment coverage. Current NCD framing creates expanded roles for physicians, healthcare workers, medicines and medical monitoring. The professional rather than the patient view dominates the NCD agenda and there is a lack of a broad, engaged, and independent NGO community. The challenge and opportunity lie in defining priorities and developing strategies that go beyond a narrow medicalized framing of the NCD problem and its solutions.

Keywords: chronic disease; global health; medicalization; non-communicable disease; sociology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Disease / therapy*
  • Delivery of Health Care / organization & administration
  • Global Health*
  • Health Care Sector / organization & administration
  • Health Planning
  • Health Priorities
  • Humans
  • Medicalization*
  • Organizations / organization & administration
  • Workforce