WHO urges nations of its Southeast Asia region to prevent and control NCDs

By Neetu Chandra Sharma
Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh highlighted the need to address NCDs and to include them as an integral part of pandemic preparedness and response at a regional committee meeting. (REUTERS)

NEW DELHI : The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged member countries in its Southeast Asia region to accelerate efforts to prevent and control non-communicable diseases (NCDs) that account for two-third of all deaths in the region and are increasing the risk of severe covid-19.

“The covid-19 pandemic has further exposed the vulnerabilities of people living with NCDs. In addition to the increased risk of severe disease and death, disruption in essential services threatens to slow down progress and even reverse the gains in controlling NCDs," said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director, WHO Southeast Asia region, at a regional committee meeting.

Prevention and control of NCDs such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory disease, diabetes, and hypertension are flagship priorities of Dr Singh. Since 2014, member countries have been making concerted efforts towards implementing multi-sectoral plans; providing and scaling up NCD services at the primary healthcare level; promoting physical activity; taxing sugary drinks; taking multiple actions to control tobacco use, and promoting mental health, among other things.

“We need to address NCDs and include them as an integral part of pandemic preparedness and response. This will help establish mechanisms for uninterrupted access to NCD services during emergencies, and reduce the risk of serious health complications," the regional director said.

In view of the continuing challenges, member countries discussed extending the Regional Action Plan for Prevention and Control of NCDs to meet SDG 2030 targets.

The member countries also discussed integrated eye care and oral health and developing regional action plans for them. Poor oral health is an important public health concern, with oral cancer being among top five cancers. The region also has one of the highest prevalence of visual impairment and blindness globally.

There is some evidence of decline in the prevalence of blindness and moderate-to-severe visual impairment in the region between 1990 and 2015; however, prevalence continues to be higher than the global average and coverage for effective cataract surgery remains below target. A situation analysis in 2020 of oral health policies showed some progress but also substantial gaps in achieving the 2025 goals.

Nearly half the deaths due to NCDs occur prematurely between 30 and 69 years of age. A quarter of the adult population in the Region suffers from hypertension and every twelfth adult has diabetes.

The member countries discussed developing a regional NCD Implementation Roadmap 2022–2030 to provide operational guidance on “how to" sustain gains, accelerate action in areas that need greater emphasis and pilot innovative approaches in the region to achieve SDG Target 3.4.

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