Commonwealth countries should take bold action to slash number of lifestyle-related deaths

Fiji's old capital Levuka is a declared smoke-free town. In a new report commissioned by the Commonwealth, recommendations such as establishing 100 per cent smoke-free public spaces are set out in a bid to cut the number of deaths related to unhealthy lifestyles. Picture: FT FILE

LONDON, 16 MAY 2018 (COMSEC) – Governments must take bold action if they are to tackle non-communicable diseases (NCDs) that blight the lives of millions of Commonwealth citizens.

In a new report commissioned by the Commonwealth, recommendations such as establishing 100 per cent smoke-free public spaces and introducing a 20 per cent sugar tax on soft drinks are set out in a bid to cut the number deaths related to unhealthy lifestyles.

Other proposals include raising taxes on tobacco to 75 per cent of sale price, as well as requiring companies to include graphic warnings or produce plain packaging.

Each year around 10 million Commonwealth citizens die as a result of lifestyle-related illnesses, with cardiovascular and chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes and cancer accounting for more than seven million fatalities.

The report will be discussed at the Commonwealth Health Ministers’ Meeting later this month in Geneva.

Significantly, 97 per cent of lifestyle-related deaths in people under the age of 60 in the occur in low and middle-income Commonwealth countries.

Speaking about the report, Commonwealth health adviser Mbololwa Mbikusita-Lewanika said, “Non-communicable diseases kill millions of people across the Commonwealth each year. That is completely unacceptable in 2018. Much more must be done to boost the health of those who suffer, or are at risk of suffering, from these diseases each year.

“That’s why we’re setting out bold proposals for governments to consider. If these steps are taken, they could be game-changers for many Commonwealth countries, especially Small Island Developing States (SIDS), which are disproportionately affected and merit special attention.”

SIDS are more dependent than other countries on imported foods and subsequently suffer from the highest obesity rates in the world. As a result, citizens from Commonwealth SIDS are three times more likely to die as a result of diabetes than people in other countries.

The report was particularly critical of the existing response to NCDs, citing the general response of governments as ‘weak’, specifically in relation to reducing levels of obesity. While the report recognised the important role that civil society currently plays in addressing some of these issues, it urged countries to introduce legislation or risk failing to deliver effective responses.

Several of the report’s recommendations have been successfully implemented in Commonwealth countries – for example the introduction of a sugar tax in Barbados, Dominica, and St Vincent & the Grenadines to combat obesity.

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