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Feb 28, 2021

By the Philips Foundation team

‘Living a healthy life’ is considered more and more important. A healthy lifestyle proves to be one of the essential factors in preventing serious diseases such as cancer, lung malfunctioning, diabetes, and other cardiovascular diseases. These so-called non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are related to habits such as tobacco and alcohol use, an unhealthy diet, or physical inactivity [1].


NCD-induced conditions can weaken the immune system, exacerbating symptoms or causing complications from external hazards such as COVID-19 [2]. This is an additional risk for people already suffering from severe NCDs. 


With better access to antibiotics, antiparasitic agents, vaccines, and preventive measures like awareness and access to clean water, many infectious (or: communicable) diseases have been addressed more prominently [3]. While in the case of NCDs, the number of people affected is increasing worldwide.


According to the WHO [1], more than 85% of premature deaths from NCDs occur in low and middle-income countries. This number even predates the current pandemic. In high-income countries, NCDs typically happen later in life. In developing countries, these severe health conditions often affect people already in their working-age, leading to – on top of everything – financial insecurity when they are unable to work. 


Prevention and immediate response


At the Philips Foundation, we focus on improving access to quality healthcare for the underserved through meaningful innovation and sustainable solutions. 


Considering a healthy lifestyle and preventive measures as critical factors in addressing NCDs, I believe that is where interventions should start: showing inspiring ways to reduce the chance of becoming ill and educating people unaware of the risks. This still is missing at scale throughout the world. Besides that, in case of potentially running a risk, early assessment and diagnosis are essential to limit the consequences and increase the chance of recovery.

In developing countries, NCD-induced health conditions often affect people already in their working-age, leading to – on top of everything – financial insecurity when they are unable to work

With this in mind, we helped initiate a multi-year progressive education campaign called Back to Rhythm in South Africa, Kenya and Egypt, to raise awareness of the link between an active lifestyle and a healthy heart. The main objectives were to encourage the local populations to adopt a more active lifestyle. Also, public spaces were equipped with life-saving AEDs – portable devices to reanimate a victim of sudden cardiac arrest and restore normal heart function.


Training on how to act in times of emergency can save lives. In another project, we developed a blended learning toolkit to train volunteers on recognizing symptoms of Sudden Cardiac Arrest and how to provide potentially life-saving first aid with cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), including the use of AED.


While first developed for use in Burkina Faso and Niger, the tool was replicated in other languages and different cultural contexts to respond and meet demand from Red Cross Societies across the world. While doing so, the recommended procedural precautions to apply CPR and AED safely, considering COVID-19, were included in the materials. 


Empowering people


Over 2020, new estimates on the global cancer burden point towards 19.3 million cases [3]. Large numbers of the affected patients across the globe lack access to timely, qualitative diagnoses [4].


As an illustration, a study in Poland found that unnecessary delays in breast cancer diagnosis were found in 83.1% of all patients [5]. Thanks to the collaboration with Philips in Poland, we were able to secure 1,000 ultrasound devices for breast cancer screening. Workshops are being organized for women living in Poland’s rural areas – where they are taught about the importance of self-examination – alongside nationwide training for gynecologists to expand breast examinations to pregnant and breastfeeding women. 


Health campaigns by recognized institutions locally and globally remain of high importance. Next to that, it is effective to actively empower people and facilitate communities to be aware of their health. A follow-up with early screening and diagnosis should be part of the system approach and rapid referral to a specialist where possible. We try to prove this can be done more and more by telehealth: remote analysis of the symptoms wherever such a specialist is not physically present. This often is the case in low- and middle-income countries or remote areas. 


I am a fan of the ‘health kiosk’ Estación Vital, launched in Latin America by the social entrepreneur Marcos Lacayo. His solution shifts consumers’ mindsets by offering preventive services and enables easy access to tech-enabled screenings or remote physician consultations. Easy access means: being there where the general public goes and offering health check-ups for free.


As a striking example of the essence of the concept, I remember the entrepreneur telling me about one of the women checking in to one of his kiosks. She had not seen a doctor in about ten years. She thought she was healthy, but a health screening revealed troublesome cholesterol, glucose, and weight levels. She was recommended to consult a doctor quickly. When she did, she found out she had early-stage cancer. This, and many other examples, show that regular check-ups and creating awareness can change lives. 


An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as someone said. Attention for lifestyles and prevention would not only change lives but could also unburden healthcare systems and would help to keep them affordable. 


Investing in a healthy future


Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director General at WHO, recently pointed out: “COVID 19 has highlighted the full danger of non-communicable diseases and signaled the need for stronger public health policies and investment to prevent them”. He urges world leaders in business and government to take aggressive steps to beat NCDs. With many delayed doctor’s visits, the current pandemic emphasizes the importance of raising awareness and set a plan to address the global rise of NCDs, even more critical for low and middle-income countries. 


To find out more on how Philips Foundation is addressing NCDs in underserved communities globally, click here.

Attention for lifestyles and prevention would not only change lives but could also unburden healthcare systems and would help to keep them affordable



[1] World Health Organization (2018). Noncommunicable diseases fact sheet

[2] World Health Organization (2021). Call for global focus on NCDs to save lives from COVID-19

[3] Journal of Global Health (2016). Addressing the growing burden of NCDs by leveraging lessons from ID management

[4] (2020). Cancer Facts & Figures 2020

[5] World Health Organization (2018). Cancer fact sheet

[6] PubMed (2019). Causes of delays in breast cancer diagnosis in Poland


For further information, contact


Yannick Eshuijs

Philips Foundation

Tel.: +31 6 1852 6633


LinkedIn Profile

About Margot Cooijmans


Margot Cooijmans is Director of the Philips Foundation. Strives to bring sustainable access to quality healthcare to disadvantaged communities by taking primary healthcare models to the next level. Strongly believes in the important role of social entrepreneurship as a key enabler to strengthen healthcare systems, especially those in low- and middle-income countries.

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