Aaron Motsoaledi 160p
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The new tsunami of non-communicable diseases:

- Prevention is the only viable policy option

“We experience a tsunami of new non-communicable diseases. We have got no option. We must put our efforts into prevention by promoting healthy lifestyles”. With these words the South African Minister of Health, Hon Aaron Motsoaledi opened the a WHO meeting on NCDs in Johannesburg.

 

Close to 200 participants were present on the 18th of March when the South African Minister of Health welcomed delegates from 44 African member states and NGO representatives to Johannesburg and the first African stakeholder forum on non-communicable diseases. The conference was hosted by The WHO Regional Office for Africa in collaboration with the Government of South Africa. It was organized as a broad forum for dialogue between representatives from governments, NGOs and UN agencies.

Many of the delegates came from Ministries of Health, but other relevant ministries were alse represented. Around 40-50 representatives from NGOs and NGO networks also attended, some of them national, others covering the whole of Africa.

The program of the conference focused on the risk factors for non-communicable diseases rather than the diseases themselves. – We welcome the focus on risk factors for NCDs. It resulted in more attention to prevention than we normally experience in international NCD meetings, says Øystein Bakke, who represented FORUT and The Global Alcohol Policy Alliance (GAPA) at the conference. Mr. Bakke is seen to the right in the picture of the closing panel of the Conference.

- Health systems are overstretched in many African countries. At the same time we know that there are cost-effective prevention strategies available. Many participants noted with great interest the words of the South African Minister of Health at the opening of the meeting where he said that Africa will be in great trouble if governments follow the international trend to put prevention aside and rather let health services repair the problems that arise, says Øystein Bakke.

Bakke furthermore points to the fact that many delegates in their interventions saw evidence-based alcohol policy as the most effective strategy to combat alcohol-related NCDs. Reference was made on many occasions to the three “best buys” listed in the existing draft NCD Global Action Plan; namely excise tax increases on alcoholic beverages; comprehensive restrictions and bans on alcohol advertising and promotion; restrictions on the availability of retailed alcohol.

The alcohol industry, both their aggressive marketing and their undue interference in alcohol policy development, was criticized by many delegates, both from civil society and from governments. Many were of the opinion that vested interests should be kept at arms’ length of policy development, the same way as the tobacco industry is treated.

The conference was held at a critical and interesting time in South Africa with regard to their national alcohol policy discussions. In his very inspired and powerful speech at the opening of the conference, the South African Minister of Health, Hon. Aaron Motsoaledi presented an ambitious alcohol policy from ANC and the government’s side. This included a ban on alcohol advertising and promotion.

Hon. Motsoaledi (Picture left) talked about “the new tsunami of NCDs” hitting South Africa and the whole continent and concluded that prevention is the only strategy that really matters: “We experience an universal trend to put prevention aside and rather let health services repair the problems that arise. If Africa follows that trend, we will be in very big trouble. We have got no option, other than putting our efforts into prevention by promoting healthy lifestyles”. That same week the government announced their intention to raise the legal drinking age from 18 to 21 years, and the Gauteng provincial government had decided to stop alcohol sales on Sundays.

Parts of the conference were spent in plenary sessions with a mix of presentations and open discussions between presenters, expert panels and participants. Every day there were concurrent sessions covering the various risk factors; Tobacco, Alcohol and Unhealthy diet/lack of physical exercise. Participants were free to pick the session most relevant for their work and their competence.

NGO representatives from the alcohol field were GAPA, The Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance (SAAPA), The Eastern Africa Alcohol Policy Alliance (EAAPA), Soul City Institute from South Africa, and Blue Cross and FORUT from Norway.

Picture to the right: WHO's Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Luis Gomes Sambo, making his closing remarks at the Stakeholder's Dialogue Conference in Johannesburg, 18 - 20 March 2013.

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