Call to make healthy choices available and affordable

Health experts lash out at food industry for putting public health at risk

Published: Monday 19 September 2011

   Latest Update
Date: Sept 21 / 2:40 pm
At the BRICS Health Ministers’ Round Table conference was held on 20 September 2011, union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, the BRICS countries should have a roadmap to work in close cooperation to implement the political declaration. He stressed that it is essential for the treatment and management of NCDs that accessibility and affordability of medicines should not be hindered by TRIPS Plus measures. The BRICS Health Ministers conference concluded that detailed technical discussions would be held in the identified areas to work out the road map for collaboration.
Date: Sept 21 / 10:00
Delegates adopted a declaration calling for a multi-pronged campaign by governments, industry and civil society to curb the risk factors behind NCDs by 2013. These plans include controlling tobacco through price and tax measures and reducing marketing of unhealthy foods, high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, sugars and salt, to children.  Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said “Our collaboration is more than a public health necessity. NCDs are a threat to development.” But Conflict of Interest Coalition said that a clear commitment to implement prevention policies is still missing. "Effective public policy reform is the first casualty of timid “partnering” with companies that make products that contribute to an increase in disease risks or products that treat disease symptoms," they said in a press release.They pointed out that the declaration is silent on specifics and short on solid commitment to regulations. For example, there was little on salt and sugar reduction in processed foods, easy-to-understand front-of-pack nutrition labelling, protecting children by banning the promotion of breast-milk substitutes and high-fat, -sugar and -salt foods to children.
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Whether it was cheaper pharmaceuticals or healthy food, the first day of discussions on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) at the UN General Assembly had experts talking about improving access. The high-level General Assembly meeting was attended by more than 30 heads of states and governments and at least a 100 senior ministers and experts. Speakers at one of the roundtables at the Assembly said that while individuals had a responsibility to change their behaviour to reduce disease risk, these changes required healthy choices being made available and affordable.

India's Union minister for health and family welfare, Ghulam Nabi Azad emphasised access to health care. "We must address the issue of trade barriers which restrict access to affordable and newly developed medicines. It is vital to ensure universal access to medicines, including through the full use of the flexibilities contained in the TRIPS Agreement and the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health," he said.

The governments and public health experts lashed out at the food industry. UN general secretary Ban Ki-moon called upon corporations that sell processed foods to act with the integrity. “There is a well-documented and shameful history of certain players in industry who ignored the science, sometimes even their own research, and put public health at risk to protect their own profits,” he said. A representative of the International Food and Beverage Association said members recognized the important role they had in helping prevent non-communicable diseases by reformulating products and ensuring responsible advertising.

The meeting comes at a crucial time when non-communicable diseases are linked to 63 per cent of deaths around the world. The diseases affect the poor more. In lower-middle- and low-income countries, the increase in prevalence of overweight and obesity over the past three decades was greater than in upper-middle and high-income countries, with rates of obesity doubling over the three decades between 1980 and 2008. Between 1980 and 2008, the prevalence of raised total cholesterol did not decline in lower-middle-income countries. Each 10 per cent rise in NCDs is associated with lowering of annual economic growth by 0.5 per cent, suggests an analysis.

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