Combatting non-communicable disease in the Sacred Valley

When we think about the greatest threats to human health, diseases such as HIV/AIDs, tuberculosis, and malaria are often the first that come to mind. Until recently, infectious diseases have been at the forefront of the global health agenda.  However, data show that non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease, are also major killers, accounting for 63% of global deaths. Around 80% of deaths related to NCDs occur in low to middle income countries like Peru.

SVH community health workers prepare for a health campaign

In Peru, NCDs are responsible for around 60% of all deaths.  Many of these diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, are strongly associated with lower socioeconomic status.  In recent SVH health campaigns, a number of patients had elevated blood glucose levels and we referred them to the local clinic for further diagnosis and follow-up care.  Some were aware of their condition, but could not afford blood glucose meters or enough money for their medication.

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Source: WHO’s Peru page at

Tackling NCDs in a sustainable way requires health system strengthening. At SVH, we are talking about NCDs with our partner clinics and focusing on how we can work together to educate the Sacred Valley community.  We have already taught our first and second cycles of health workers about signals of alarm for diabetes, so they know when to send people to the clinic for blood glucose testing. Additionally, we have hosted several cervical cancer screening campaigns in partnership with CerviCusco, an organization dedicated to preventing cervical cancer. According to CerviCusco, cervical cancer is the number one cause of cancer death in Peruvian women 15 to 64 years old.

Health worker Berta sits down with an elderly women from her community.
Health worker Berta sits down with an elderly women from her community.

Although we don’t yet have NCD data specific to the rural communities we serve, anecdotal evidence as well as national data suggest that NCDs present a growing challenge. We will continue to prepare our health workers to address NCD risk factors in their communities, and to make referrals to local clinics based on NCD-related signs of alarm.

– Written by Sarah Phillips

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