The West African Health Organisation (WAHO) has projected that the ECOWAS region can save 250,000 lives by 2025, by implementing a set of World Health Organisation (WHO) “Best Buys” to address the rising disease burden.
It said many of these ‘Best Buys’ were related to the regulation of food, alcohol and alcoholic drinks, as well as sugar-sweetened beverages.
The projections were made in an address read by Dr Willam Bonsu, the Programme Manager for Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), on behalf of WAHO, at an ECOWAS Regional workshop in Accra on Tuesday.
Dr Bonsu said unhealthy diets, alcohol, tobacco use and physical inactivity, have been identified as major risk factors for NCDs such as hypertension, diabetes and cancers, which had currently reached an epidemic stage, affecting most Member-states of the ECOWAS sub-region.
He said the workshop would enable countries to share best practices in the control of NCDs in general, and in the regulation of unhealthy products in particular, enforce existing laws on food safety, labelling, standards, the marketing of breast milk substitutes, tobacco, alcohol and advertisements, including those on herbal practitioners.
He said in line with the theme: “Towards Strengthening Regional Capacity in Regulation for Improved Nutrition and Health in West Africa,” it was hoped that the workshop would identify strategies which would contribute to strengthening the capacity of national agencies to regulate food and alcoholic beverages.
Dr Bonsu said there was the need for leadership, increased political will to NCDs, increased domestic funding, innovative financing mechanisms, integration of health programmes, multisectoral collaboration, increased public-private partnership, task sharing, social protection and civil society engagements.
Dr Owen Laws Kaluwa, the WHO Country Representative, said the workshop was important as it focused on the important contribution of regulatory agencies in addressing NCDs which exert a heavy burden on health globally.
He noted that NCDs which included heart diseases, stroke, cancer, diabetes and chronic lung diseases, were collectively responsible for almost 70 per cent of all deaths worldwide.
Almost three quarters of all NCD deaths, and 82 per cent of the 16 million people who died prematurely, or before reaching age 90, occur in low and middle-income countries, he said.
He said the NCD epidemic indeed poses devastating health consequences for individuals, families and communities, and threaten to overwhelm health systems, saying the socio-economic cost associated with these diseases made the prevention and control a major development imperative for the next century, and currently it was one of the key priorities of the WHO.
Dr Kaluwa said to address NCDs comprehensively necessitates that countries developed multi-sectoral national strategic plans and policies to guide the work and response of all stakeholders involved.
They also mean that “as we pursue Universal Health Coverage (UHC) we should ensure that the package of essential services we are offering include interventions to address NCDs through the continuum of promotive, preventive, curative and rehabilitative services building on primary health care,” he said.
He explained that the WHO in 2017, produced a document titled “Tackling NCDs,” which provided policymakers with a list of ‘Best Buys’ and other recommended interventions to address NCDs.
He said building on the Global Action Plan for the prevention and control of NCDs which spanned from 2013 to 2020, a list of options was presented for each of the four key risk factors of NCDs, and four disease areas involving cardiovascular, diabetes, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases respectively.
A lot, he said remained to be done to reach the NCD-Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target, which aimed to achieve a reduction by one third in premature mortality from NCDs by 2030, through the prevention, treatment, and promotion of mental health and well-being.
He said the attainment of this target would require urgent and collaborative action by stakeholders, saying “indeed the NCD epidemic would only be fought and won by the concerted efforts of all relevant sectors and stakeholders working together”.
Dr Kaluwa commended WAHO for the initiative which has brought together all the regulatory agencies in the West Africa Region to discuss how to strengthen role as key stakeholders in addressing NCDs.
Mr Kwaku Agyeman Manu, the Minister of Health, in a speech read on his behalf, expressed concern about the sort of processed foods that Africans now craved for, saying this was evidenced by the growing trend of fast food chains including global brands, which was a great source of worry.
He said these processed foods were high in sugar, salt and fat, posing more health risks to consumers, than the nutritional values they gained from consuming such foods.
He further expressed worry about the high consumption of foods prepared with bouillon cubes with high sodium content, saying large section of the Ghanaian population particularly in urban areas consumed foods they did not prepare themselves, hence they were unable to regulate the amount of salt or sugar content in them.
Consumers, he said were therefore left at the mercies of the discretion of the caterers in determining the salt and also indicated that the high consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages in Ghana especially among children must be addressed with urgency.
Mr Agyeman-Manu said the effect of alcohol consumption on road safety, general health of individuals and risky behaviours were well known.
He said Ghana, likesome countries in the sub-region was seeing an increasing economic growth with an increase in income among the population, however the “rise in population income has generally been associated with increasing consumption of alcohol and this was a negative fallout of our economic progress that needed collective efforts to addressed.
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