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Ahead of the scheduled United Nations High Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases (UN HLM NCDs) in September this year, stakeholders on NCDs in Ghana have met to strategize on Ghana’s preparedness.
To this effect, over 15 different health focused organizations under the umbrella of the Ghana NCD Alliance have held discussions that largely focused on the NCD situation in Ghana, the Goal 3 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), tobacco and alcohol. The meeting was coordinated by the Vision for Alternative Development (VALD) and the Ghana NCD Alliance.
Among others, it came to light that Ghana’s health system is under stressed and a heavy burden on the national kitty, and therefore there is an urgent need to promote healthy diet, physical activity, reduced alcohol use and tobacco smoking and use as simple and cost effective measures to reduce premature death and disability from NCDs.
NCDs are the leading cause of death worldwide; accounting for about two-third of all global deaths currently. The global epidemic of NCDs has widely been acknowledged as a major development challenge in the 21st century, and a significant threat to achieving internationally agreed UN SDGs. NCDs impose years of disability on affected people and their families.
The SDGs strongly recognized tobacco and alcohol use as a major risk factor for non-communicable diseases and health in general.
Research has shown that most of the problems associated with alcohol can be gender-based violence and crime, family disruptions etc. Prompt interventions will save our youth, women, and future generations from the devastating environment and social consequences of these risk factors which are mostly ignored
The Executive Director of VALD, Mr. Issah Ali, in an address urged the participants to stay united against the common enemy. He said it is time Civil Society mount pressure on the government to commit resources to the cause of NCDs in Ghana, else the impact on advocacy would be too dire.
“Instead of going to banks to borrow funds for its activities as used to be the case in the past, we are hearing that the government wants to stop borrowing from the banks; so it is now scanning around for the least money it can get from anywhere to the extent that they are even touching funds meant for other sectors. So the government is reallocating and they are currently planning to do away with the earmarking system. This is going to work against us as CSOs,” Ali stated, while urging the participants to show interest in the aspect of health financing.
He said the move by the government to rationalize its funding base is not a good news to stakeholders in the advocacy business and so Civil Society Organizations must show concern and try to fill the gaps that have been identified.
“I believe we can do more to help the system. If we continue to depend on the government for everything then nothing would change because our system is not working. Nothing is working apart from political programs,” he stated.
“We should understand that for so many years we have been educating and advocating, but nothing is changing because the challenges remain and everything is failing. So we have to really reflect and see where the problems are. You have the laws but the agencies are not working.
“Let us all come together and consider the consolidated approach where all the various sectors can come together and work on Education, advocacy, on the legal framework among others. Let us fall on the expertise of each other. We should not go our various ways and think we are doing something, let us use the consolidated approach to achieve our intended purpose,” he stated.
The Programmes Director for VALD, Labram Masawudu Musah, who is also the National Coordinator of the Ghana NCD Alliance, exposed the participants to some strategies being used by the tobacco industry to weaken or prevent advances in tobacco control.
It include the establishment of inappropriate relationships with policy and decision makers, lobbying or making deals to influence political processes, using campaign contributions to win votes and legislative favours from politicians and the manipulation of the media.
He said the industry also uses stage managed media events to distract attention from tobacco control initiatives, while making attempts to undermine the work of science or distort research works by international agencies like the World Health Organization (WHO).
They also cause intimidation by using legal and economic power as a means of harassing and frightening opponents who support tobacco control; harassing tobacco control professionals; and challenging laws to intimidate tobacco industry opponents.
Musah advocated that a substantial tax be placed on alcohol as a win-win measure for financing development. According to him, independent science shows that employing evidence-based alcohol taxation measures can reap benefits across 10 out of 17 SDGs.
“There is strong evidence that raising alcohol taxes is an effective strategy for reducing alcohol consumption and related harms. Alcohol taxation is a powerful tool with a double positive effect: It reduces the burden of alcohol as obstacle to development. It also help raise funds for government welfare policy measures,” he stated.
He also highlighted the conflict of interest between the alcohol industry and the SDGs saying “Alcohol is a major obstacle to achieving the SDGs. To effectively curb the commercial drivers of this obstacle to development, alcohol availability, affordability, and marketing need to be regulated.
“But this goes contrary to the core business interest of Big Alcohol who’s only objective is to maximize profits by increasing alcohol consumption everywhere,” he noted.
The 2018 UN High-level Meeting on NCDs will present an opportunity for stakeholders to galvanize the NCD community, enable member states to take stock of progress, identify and assess gaps and reaffirm political commitments.
The meeting was under the kind sponsorship of the Framework Convention Alliance, the NCD Alliance and the Norwegian Cancer Society (NCS)
Source: Jeorge Wilson Kingson || ghananewsonline.com.gh