Increasing Cases of NCDs Alarms WHO, Calls for Urgent Action

The World Health Organization (WHO) last week said that urgent action is needed to reduce the increasing burden of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and prevent the annual toll of 16 million people dying prematurely—before the age of 70— from heart and lung disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes.

According to the new WHO report, the Western Pacific Region is one of two WHO regions in which deaths due to NCDs have increased the most, from 8.6 million in 2000 to 10.9 million in 2012.

It is also the WHO region, which accounts for the highest number of lives lost to NCDs.

2015-0202 Increasing Cases of NCDs Alarms WHO, Calls for Urgent Action

Eight out of 10 adults in the Western Pacific Region die because of NCDs. Many of these deaths can be prevented. Governments need to invest in cost-effective policies and interventions to help reduce tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diets, high blood pressure and insufficient physical activity, which are among the leading risk factors for NCDs,” said Dr. Shin Young-soo, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific.

According to the global status report on noncommunicable diseases in 2014, 82 percent of the 16 million premature deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, overtaking deaths from infectious diseases. In the Western Pacific Region, NCD risk factors remain unacceptably high:

n One in five adults over 18 years of age has elevated blood pressure;

n Nearly half of all men over 15 years of age smoke tobacco daily; and

n Eighty-five percent of adolescents do not engage in sufficient physical activity.

The forces of globalization, urbanization and rapid economic growth aggravate the NCD epidemic in the region. Processed foods, often high in salt and sugar, have become more affordable and accessible, replacing traditional diets in parts of the region.

Pacific island countries have called for a reduction in the trade of unhealthy products. According to the report, the prevalence of NCD risk factors, such as overweight, obesity and elevated blood glucose, is significantly higher in Pacific island-countries than other parts of the region.

In the Pacific, nearly half of women over 18 years of age are obese.

One in five adults has elevated blood glucose. In declaring an NCD crisis, Pacific island leaders have underscored the fundamental role of health in development. As Samoa’s Minister of Health Dr. Talalelei Tuitama put it, “With no health, there is no development.”

“NCDs create a huge financial burden for families and society,” Shin explained. NCDs impede efforts to alleviate poverty and threaten the achievement of international development goals. When people of productive age fall sick and die, productivity suffers. And the cost of treating diseases can be devastating—both to the individual and to a country’s health system.

Meanwhile, Dr. Susan Mercado, director of NCD and Health through the Life-Course for WHO’s Western Pacific Region, said that most NCDs can be prevented through“best buy,” or cost-effective high-impact interventions.

“Everyone has a role to play in the prevention and control of NCDs. Legislators, mayors, teachers, media, civil society and communities can take action to reduce NCD risks, e.g., by banning all forms of tobacco advertising, educating the public about the benefits of a healthy diet and physical activity or promoting breast-feeding,” she said.

Efforts must also foster a reorientation of health systems to promote better collaboration between primary-care facilities and referral centers, better preventive care, early screening for risk factors, better medical records systems, and improved access to essential drugs and medicines.

Many countries have already had success in implementing best-buy interventions to meet global targets to reduce the burden of NCDs.

With support from the WHO, Western Pacific member-states are taking action to address the NCD burden. In the Republic of Korea, counseling centers have been established to provide community-based preventive-care services.

The centers provide health education, organize exercise groups and refer residents to health professionals. In Mongolia industry engagement prompted a major bread manufacturer to reduce the amount of salt in its products. Overconsumption of salt is linked to high blood pressure.

Raising tobacco taxes and prices is one of the most effective ways to prevent NCDs. Eighteen countries in the region have increased taxes on tobacco products over the past two years.

The WHO report provides the baseline for monitoring implementation of the global action plan for NCDs 2013-2020, aimed at reducing the number of premature deaths from NCDs by 25 percent by 2025.

Outlined in the action plan are nine voluntary global targets that address key NCD risk factors, including tobacco use, salt intake, physical activity, high blood pressure and harmful use of alcohol. “The WHO is more committed than ever to work with member-states to address each country’s particular challenges with appropriate best-buy actions to prevent and control NCDs,” Shin stressed.


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