Reduce trade in unhealthy products for healthy small developing islands

Young Samoan children who are susceptible to NCDs that currently kill 3 in 4 Pacific islanders under the age of 6o

APIA: TUESDAY 02 SEPTEMBER 2014: The Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) is calling on the international community to support SIDS by reducing trade in unhealthy products, encouraging healthy food and drink consumption, and ensuring the noncommunicable disease (NCD) goals and targets are central to the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

This is “the Apia Challenge” presented by Tuitama Leao Dr. Talalelei Tuitama, Minister of Health in Samoa, as an outcome of NCD Side Event held on 1 September. NCD, declared a crisis by Pacific Islands Forum leaders, is one of the six priority areas addressed in the Third International Conference on Small Islands Developing States Conference (SIDS), which is taking place from 1 to 4 September 2014, in Apia, Samoa.

No health, no development!
“In the Pacific and the Caribbean—where most Small Island Developing States are located—NCDs create a huge economic burden for families and society.” said Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Region, at the NCD Side Event.

From subsistence farming and fishing, islands communities have been propelled onto the global stage.  Unhealthy food and drinks have flooded their markets. Tobacco and alcohol also became easily available. In Samoa, around 90% of adults are overweight, and almost 1 in 4 students currently use tobacco, according to the WHO STEPS Survey 2013. The NCD situation is too grave to be ignored.

The burden of NCDs constitutes a major challenge for sustainable development in SIDS. The political leaders in health called for urgent actions and response. “No health, no development!” Samoa Minister of Health, Tuitama Leao Dr Talalelei Tuitama urged.

The solution is clear
“We have developed nine global targets and 25 indicators for the prevention and control of NCDs.  One of the targets is a 25% reduction in premature mortality from NCDs by 2025. I am encouraged that Pacific island countries and areas have endorsed the global targets,” said Dr Shin.

Prime Minister of Samoa, Tuilaepa Fatialofa Lupesoliai Dr Sailele Malielegaoi reiterated the 2013 Apia Communiqué Ministers political commitment to address the NCD crisis, by promoting multi-sectoral action, supporting implementation of interventions that promote health promotion in primary health care, developing accountability mechanisms for NCD surveillance and, adopting NCD goals and targets such as Tobacco Free Pacific by 2025.

Samoa has taken the Tobacco Free Pacific 2025 as one of key priorities and made good progress. The WHO STEPS Survey 2013 has shown a reduction in tobacco consumption by more than 10% over the last ten years.

Reduce trade in unhealthy products
But like other SIDS countries, Samoa is paying heavy price for abandoning traditional diet. Replacing traditional foods with imported, processed food has contributed to the high prevalence of obesity and related health problems.  “We recognize the need for trade policies and laws that assure safe and healthy food and beverage on our shop shelves and onto our dining tables.” Tuilaepa Fatialofa Lupesoliai Dr Sailele Malielegaoi stressed.

Dr Shin encouraged the international community to reduce trade in unhealthy products—food and drink high in salt, sugar and fats. “We must enhance the capacity of SIDS to monitor imports and safeguard health.”

“Fighting NCDs requires a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach. Healthy Islands – a place where people can grow, live and learn in health and dignity – is a vision that resonates in small island developing states. But the vision will never become a reality unless we turn back the NCD crisis,” concluded Dr Shin.

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