“NCDFREE” – A Night to Remember and Act On!

I know, this sounds like a horrific title. But trust me, this is how I felt. Initially when the NCD Action was first taking shape all we wanted to do was having a social movement and NCDFREE is and was a social movement. Being an YP and a part of the NCD Action and a NCD activist by heart, I was over joyed and over the moon, throughout the whole evening.


This all started with the vision of a young doctor navigated to NCDs via global health. Alessandro Demaio. This young man in his late 20’s has managed to become mover and shaker in the NCD world and has very successfully created a very innovative brand for NCDs as a social movement – NCDFREE. Honestly when I first heard the word “NCDFREE” I was a bit skeptical. How can you possibly think of a world “Free” of “NCDs” where this is now the leading cause of death and disabilities! But each passing moment with this young visionary, I came to know how we could envision for a world of preventable NCDs.


The night of the Melbourne launch of the NCDFREE films were part of the Melbourne Festival of Ideas. No other place could have been more suitable for sharing this new train of thoughts and ideas. Housed near the Yarra river in the 500-seated auditorium of the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre the event started with the VIP event of drinks and finger foods 6 pm. But the whole festivity started way back. Back in March 2013 when the first crowd sourced teaser of NCDFREE was started. Then came the crowd funding, NCDFREE Europe challenge, making of the Mongolia short film with young, making of the Ghana short film, the Boston launch and finally the Melbourne.


The night started with a comedy skit. Yes you read it right. This is what made the whole launch a lot more different than any other NCD or public health related events. It was out of the box and out of the normal thought process. The comedian Charlie Ranger and his funny companion started the night with a funny way of defining NCDs. Giving it a layperson view and bringing it away from the “clusters of diseases” place! 


Then comes the Demaio brothers: Sandro and Giuseppe! Introducing the night the quite one of the Demaio duo – Giuseppe – leaves the stage giving Sandro the job of making public health sexy (which he does very well). After a very innovative way of shifting the NCDs burden into a cluster of opportunities starts the talk with a video of Prof. Rob Modie live from Dubai saying that “We need a broad diverse social network, we need young people to take this issue seriously for progress in NCDs”. Love you Prof. Modie!


The night had six wonderful and very powerful speakers from six different fields (shameless plague as I am one of them). My job was to put a human face on NCDs and I choose cancer, as I was born cancer – as my zodiac sign of course.  Introduced Bangladesh Cancer Support Group (housed in Eminence) and tell stories of people living, surviving, dying and riding with cancer. Stories about how this six-letter word can change the course of tomorrow for a whole family, a nation. Stories how NCDs can simply break the cycle of any sustainable development. Okay enough of me! CHANGE OF TOPIC!!


Then the night went to young Kiwi NCD change maker Dr. Philip Baker from Australian National University and the NCD Action Network and Prof. Kerin O’Dea – One Guru and another in making. The Guru’s were interviewed by little powerhouse Lilli Morgan and talking about role and power of youth for changing the horizon of NCDs. The 10 minutes talk flew away and just one quote from Prof. Kerin “we have to think about system change, where we have a focus on public good not vested interests” and from Dr. Baker “young people and leadership are absolutely key to solving NCDs because NCDs are in the scene for a long time and we need young blood to finish this race”.

Then comes the first movie. The movie from Ghana! Bat Sheva Lazarus and Emmanuel Sanwuok take the stage to introduce our first inspiring short film where Emmanuel Sanwuok is showing us live (!) from Ghana and emphasizing on the fact that “we need to build the capacity of health staff, health systems to comprehensive screen and manage NCDs”.


Heavy words but don’t worry. The evening then had its second comedy skit with a cola ad! Of course this was a parody where the wonderful Charlie laughingly informed all of us that if you drink one bottle of cola each day then you consume 23 kilos of sugar without knowing! 23 kilo!!!!!


With this number we moved to Dr. Kate Tylor. I have never seen someone use numbers so brilliantly! 500 billion USD = 7 Bill Gates, Gosh! Economics of investing in NCDs. It's not that we cannot afford to – it's that we cannot afford not to, I know double negatives but easy if you put on your thinking cap. Illness can push 100 million people back into poverty every year and the WHO’s Best Buys have an answer to some extent – a massive opportunity waiting to be seized by anyone who is willing to make this investment!


Then comes jazz by Arowe, a young captivating performer and very a delightful lively singer song-writer. With her infused melodic vocal and simple guitar rifts, she seriously gave the audience some musical “relief!”. Followed bythis wonderful jazz Sandro comes with the NCDFREE Europe Challenge and showcases the wonderful crowd sourced video that the NCDFREE team made for the July 2013 Ministerial meeting commissioned by the WHO Europe office. Then comes the third speaker, Tuguy Esgin a Noongar man from WA who has found a source and inspiration to find solutions, utilizing exercise as medicine. Another wonderful act of jazz brings the interval time and before the audience even notices we are halfway through the evening! Amazing right!


Generally what happens is in any given situation the auditorium would be a little less packed after the interval, but this time is was again jam packed even before the interval time was over! Another example of this night being an amazing one! After interval first message was straight from Falicia Knaul, an Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Harvard Global Equity Initiative where she serves as the Secretariat for the Global Task Force on Expanded Access to Cancer Care and Control in Developing Countries. As always she was so gracefully powerful with her aura of being in charge! Oh I just love this woman! Then we move to Sandro’s magic trip with colorful circles and making epidemiology sexy! Trust me, it’s so engaging and powerful that I personally have heard at least two people saying that they are going to apply this in their class!


Just when the audience were busy digesting the numbers, the NCDFREE team took us to a journey to Mongolia, where the young cardiologist Dr. Byanmba – another young change maker – is showing us how heart diseases has become the leading cause of death in Mongolia. But at the same time Dr. Byamba is confident in the future of health in Mongolia because of young people who have motivation to make change.


Generally I all events we have a spokesperson from the sponsors and trust me that part of the conversation is never in my bucket list. But this time the chat with the GM of Remedy Australia was inspiring. Just one quote will make you under. David Brajkovic – the GM – actually said “We need to change the national dialogue. We need to empower people to embrace their health.” Kudos!


Followed by that comes Lucinda Hartley award winning designer from Code Sign Studio joins the speakers for talking about redesigning our cities to make health easy. Bringing NCDs out of health spectrum, Lucinda explores the solutions: walkability, public spaces and safety and finishes with a great line “if not us then who, if not now then when”.! With this train of thought Asta come to stage and gives the audience another musical relief! Music for relief indeed! After Asta its time for some food for thought. Hey literally foods with Shauna Downs talking about reconnecting food system and giving options for healthy choice.  “We can vote with our forks, advocate for better regulation, but most importantly, eat locally” the final thoughts from Shauna. With forks and votes on the stage comes Charlie et al and making comical skids about how wonderful it would be if one day there would be no NCDs and all the doctors will be out of job! That was funny (surely you can guess I am not a doctor!).

The last man on stage is Dr. Fred Hersch a young doctor passionate about Global Health using technology that is essential to healthcare. The first he does on the stage is to ask everyone to bring his or her phone out of the pocket or the purse. Oh! What a great way to end the night where we leave with a note that for the first time in history, we can bring healthcare to people even in the most remote corners of the world.


Is there anything I didn’t like about the night? Yes of course. There was one thing that I hated. And that is it was way too short. But as they everything in moderation, because this revolution is just beginning.

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