South-east Asia resolves to combat non-communicable diseases

Countries target to reduce mortality from lifestyle diseases by a quarter by 2025

Published: Wednesday 11 September 2013

The 66th session of the WHO Regional Committee for South-East Asia kicked off in New Delhi on September 10 with the adoption of the New Delhi Declaration on High Blood Pressure. At the meeting, health ministers from 11 countries resolved to prevent and control high blood pressure. They hope to bring about measurable reduction in the prevalence of hypertension in the region by 2025.

Hypertension is the leading risk factor for mortality worldwide, causing nine million deaths each year. The poor are disproportionately affected by hypertension, says WHO (see 'Unhealthy countryside'. Under the declaration, countries would try to empower people to make healthy choices for healthy lives. They would put in place multi-sectoral policies to promote physical activity and healthy diet and reduce exposure to tobacco and harmful use of alcohol. Efforts would be made to regulate food industry and reduce consumption of salt.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including hypertension, account for 55 per cent of the 14.5 million deaths in the South-East Asia. “High blood pressure is a strong and reliable warning signal that health is at risk and that something needs to be done. But it often shows no symptoms for years and by the time symptoms appear, cardiovascular disease is advanced and the risk of heart attack or a stroke is increased,” said WHO Director General Margaret Chan. “The public health challenge is to get more people routinely tested early to enable proper management of high blood pressure through life style change or medication,” she added.

Controlling hypertension is just one of the 10 targets (see ‘Target 2025’) that the ministers are expected to adopt during the meeting to prevent and control NCDs by 2025. Nine of these targets were set by the World Health Assembly after it endorsed the Global Action Plan for Prevention and Control of NCDs in May 2013. The South-East Asian Region has an additional target of reducing household air pollution by 50 per cent. Household air pollution is caused by the use of solid fuels, such as wood, crop residue, dried dung, coal and charcoal, as the primary cooking source.

NCDs result in loss of productivity and gross domestic product. Due to long-term treatment costs and high out-of-pocket costs, NCDs can result in catastrophic health expenditures and impoverishment. In India, for example, the share of out-of-pocket expenditure because of NCDs increased from 32 per cent in 1995 to 47 per cent in 2004. Researchers at Harvard School of Public Health in the US estimate that between 2012 and 2030, India would incur a loss of US $3.9 trillion due to four major NCDs—cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, cancers and diabetes.

Target 2025

  • 25 per cent reduction in mortality from cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes, or chronic respiratory diseases
  • 10 per cent reduction in the harmful use of alcohol
  • 30 per cent reduction in prevalence of tobacco use by persons above 15
  • 10 per cent reduction in prevalence of insufficient physical activity
  • 30 per cent reduction in mean population intake of salt/sodium
  • 25 per cent reduction in prevalence of high blood pressure
  • Halting the rise in obesity and diabetes
  • 50 per cent of eligible people to receive drug therapy and counselling to prevent heart attacks and strokes
  • 80 per cent availability of technologies and essential medicines required to treat major NCDs
  • 50 per cent reduction in the proportion of households using solid fuels as the primary cooking source

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