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MANILA – Eight of 10 deaths in the Western Pacific region are due to non-communicable diseases (NCDs), and most of the victims are young people, the World Health Organization said Wednesday, raising the alarm against cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory illnesses.
In a news conference, Dr. Susan Mercado, head of the Division of Building Health Communities and Population at the WHO-Western Pacific Region Office (WPRO), said: “What's more alarming is that 50 percent of these deaths are from people who are below 65.”
The NCDs is a “very big problem” even in the Philippines, said Mercado, participant to the ongoing meeting of representatives of 18 countries at the WHO-WPRO office in Manila tasked to draft an action plan for the prevention and control of NCDs in the region.
“Currently, we know that all countries, especially developing countries, are suffering from NCDs…That’s a myth that these are diseases of the rich or the elite and the well-off. In fact, those who suffer the most in NCDs are poor and coming from marginalized groups,” she said.
The most common risk factor affecting the poor are the foods that are high in salt.
“The recommended intake of salt is 5 grams per day. Among poor populations in the Philippines it could be as high as 15 grams per day. That's because we are using very salty food which is probably cheaper and is probably dried preserved or processed food which they can afford,” Mercado said.
Food in the Philippines is generally sweet, the WHO also observed.
“And if we look at smoking rates, smoking is higher in lower iccome groups and that's because possibly they don't know how bad it is for them. They don't have access to services and care,” Mercado maintained.<
Policy changes vs lifestyle diseases
Therefore, Mercado said, NCDs may be prevented by dealing with risk factors like tobacco use, salt, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, and harmful use of alcohol.
She said countries in the region have already started to act against NCDs.
Japan, she noted, was able to reduce salt content in its food in the past 30 to 40 years.
“Postwar Japan food was mainly dried salted fish, tofu, and preserved vegetables. But they went through a very serious effort to get food producers and food manufacturers to be aware of the importance of lowering salt content,” she said.
Even soy sauce in Japan is now less in sodium, she added.
Vietnam, on the other hand, last year enacted a national tobacco control law that bans smoking in public places, puts graphic health warning on cigarette packs, increases cigarette prices, and creates a tobacco control fund that will be used to promote anti-tobacco campaign.
Mercado commended the Philippines for passing the sin tax bill, which raises taxes on tobacco. “I think that’s an excellent practice. It was very difficult, it was very controversial but with strong political will, the price of tobacco in the Philippines has increased,” she added.
During the meeting, participants discussed how countries can develop policies, take action, and work with other sectors to reduce premature mortality and address the risk factors for NCDs.
The action plan is intended to guide efforts by the region’s 17 countries and areas to prevent and control the epidemic of NCDs, as well as align with a global plan being developed under the auspices of the WHO.
Worldwide, cardiovascular and chronic respiratory diseases, cancers, and diabetes account for 63 percent of deaths.