Pakistan continues to struggle with the scourge of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) — a set of chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular ailments, cancer, diabetes, conditions caused by tobacco abuse, and mental disorders. NCDs are a leading cause of death and poor quality of life in our country. As many as 80 million Pakistanis, approximately 38% of the country’s population, suffer from one or more of them. And, if the situation persists, the WHO expects Pakistan’s NCD predicament to get a lot worse. A poorly implemented 2004 National Action Plan to control NCDs has meant that, according to the WHO’s Country Profiles, Pakistan lags far behind in the attainment of all global NCD targets. It is essential, therefore, for Pakistan to immediately take steps to counter the NCD menace.
First and foremost, it is imperative that the government launch a media campaign to apprise the masses of the need for regular physical activity and proper nutrition. Prevention, we must remember, is by far the best option to curb NCDs. Secondly, the cost of medicines can be substantially reduced by partnering with pharmaceutical companies. Kenya has done just that and has, remarkably, reduced the cost of medicines to patients to just one US dollar a month. Punjab has also undertaken a similar initiative, but the partnership needs to be implemented countrywide. Thirdly, the government must institute legally enforceable salt and sugar restriction measures. Two models to follow in this regard are the national salt reduction programme in China and the sugar tax levied on sweet beverages in Mexico, both of which have been hailed as successful NCD-control initiatives. Furthermore, tobacco taxation is essential to discourage smoking, a major cause of NCDs. And, last but not least, government efforts must continue towards the development of a comprehensive primary healthcare system for the diagnosis and treatment of all diseases, including NCDs.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 20th, 2019.