Health minister appointed to global NCD commission

Tonga Health Minister Dr. Saia Piukala has been appointed to an independent global commission on non-communicable diseases which the World Health Organisation (WHO) has established to combat the epidemic.

Hon. Piukala along with other commissioners will help raise awareness of the issues and experiences of NCDs in the Pacific.

The regional communities are struggling to cope with the growing burden of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancers.

The Commission, launched by WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on 16 February 2018, comprises heads of state, ministers, leaders in health and development and entrepreneurs.

It will propose bold and innovative solutions to accelerate prevention and control of NCDs. Of the 37 countries and areas in the Western Pacific Region, Tonga and Singapore have had commissioners appointed.

By global standards, the Western Pacific region has some of the highest rates of NCDs. The major NCDs of cardiovascular and chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes and cancers alone account for more than 8 out of 10 deaths in the region 1.

Many of these deaths are premature (under 60 years of age), and preventable. Tonga is no exception, with recent statistics highlighting that approximately 1 in 5 Tongans have diabetes 2 .

Whilst the burden is significant, these deaths can be avoided by taking action to eliminate tobacco use and harmful use of alcohol, reducing physical inactivity, improving diets and strengthening the screening and management of individuals at risk of NCDs.

“We’ve taken some positive steps to reduce the burden of NCDs in Tonga, but much more needs to be done,” said Honourable Minister Dr Saia Ma’u Piukala. “These are avoidable diseases. This is why we have developed and are implementing a National Strategy for combatting NCDs 3, which localises global guidelines and sets forth realistic, achievable actions for our entire community.

In Tonga, some of the biggest drivers of this crisis are unhealthy diets and lack of physical activity. We need innovative ways to protect people from tobacco, change behaviours and provide our communities with safer, healthier options. As a Commissioner, I look forward to being part of the global discussion to come up with practical solutions that can be applied in the Pacific”.

1 Western Pacific Regional Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases (2014 – 2020). 2 World Health Organization – Diabetes Country Profiles 2016. 3 Tonga National Strategy for Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases 2015-2022.

Combatting NCDs, and promoting mental health and wellbeing, are major priorities for WHO in the Pacific. “Right now, the Pacific is facing an epidemic of NCDs,” said Dr Corinne Capuano, Director of Pacific Technical Support and WHO Representative to the South Pacific.

“That’s why we’re working with Pacific island leaders to take action. We have been supporting Pacific Islands to use local data and knowledge to come up with practical, cost-effective ways to tackle NCDs,” Dr Capuano added. “Success will depend upon bold, proactive leadership by our Pacific leaders, such as Dr Saia Ma’u Piukala.”

The new Commission will provide actionable recommendations to the WHO Director – General Dr Tedros. They may also provide an input to the Third United Nations General Assembly High-level Meeting on NCDs that will take place in New York in the second half of 2018.

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