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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 5/22/20

Governments' accountability for responding to COVID-19, NCDs and tobacco epidemics

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Shobha Shukla - CNS

Members of Parliament (MPs), Mayors, Governors from Asia Pacific nations and WHO head of TFI and The Union Asia Pacific Deputy Director
Members of Parliament (MPs), Mayors, Governors from Asia Pacific nations and WHO head of TFI and The Union Asia Pacific Deputy Director
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Politics, in many ways, is the ultimate determinant of health, had said Dr Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of The Lancet, a couple of years back. In lead up to the 2020 World No Tobacco Day, and before the first virtual World Health Assembly began, a high level virtual meet with several government leaders from Asia and the Pacific region, convened to discuss governments' accountability in the context of the global public health emergency caused by coronavirus disease (COVID-19), and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) that not only cause over 70% of deaths globally but also increase the risk of developing serious outcomes of COVID-19, including death. Tobacco use which kills over 8 million people every year, and, is an entirely preventable and common risk factor of major NCDs, was also on the agenda.

This Webinar brought together Members of Parliament (MPs), Mayors, Governors and other local government leaders, public health experts, medical experts, media, those who live with NCDs or have survived killer NCDs, among others. It was hosted by APCAT (Asia Pacific Cities Alliance for Tobacco Control and NCDs Prevention) - a forum for subnational leaders working to advance tobacco control and prevent NCDs in 65 cities of 12 countries in Asia and the Pacific region. 514 participants from 49 countries (913 registration from 66 countries) globally attended this session with significant representation from Indonesia, Cambodia, Myanmar, Lao PDR, Nepal, Philippines, Singapore, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Malaysia and Timor-Leste.

Deadly connect: COVID-19, NCDs and tobacco

"Tobacco kills over 8 million people every year globally, out of which 2.3 million deaths occur in the Asia Pacific region", said Dr Tara Singh Bam, Deputy Regional Director (Asia Pacific) of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union). Tobacco use is the leading common risk factor for major NCDs, such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancers, and chronic respiratory diseases. "Scientific studies show that tobacco use is associated with poor prognosis and serious outcomes of COVID-19, including death", added Dr Bam. Dr Vinayak Prasad who heads the Tobacco Free Initiative (TFI) of the World Health Organization (WHO) also reaffirmed this by sharing that "Review studies done by public health experts convened by WHO on April 29 found that smokers are more likely to develop severe coronavirus disease, compared to non-smokers." The WHO recommends that governments should provide smoking cessation services in the form of Quit lines, counselling, etc. The WHO also recommends ban on waterpipe smoking, increase in taxes on tobacco and alcohol, and collection of scientific data on status of tobacco smoking among COVID-19 positive people.

Parliamentarians have more critical role to play during a crisis

Policy makers at different levels have a critical role to play, especially during crises like COVID-19 pandemics. Khagraj Adhikari, Member of Parliament from Nepal, former health minister and Chair of APCAT Parliamentarians (Asia Pacific Parliamentarians Caucus for tobacco control and NCDs prevention) said that given the rising evidence on COVID-19 comorbidities, parliamentarians should, "review and amend existing tobacco control policies, including raising taxes and prices of tobacco products. We must also enact policies to restrict the sale of and/or ban the harmful products such as alcohol and tobacco. Industry's donation to market these harmful products should be banned. We must make governments accountable for health of their people by pushing for best practice health policies." He further added NCDs and TB services should be continued even during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Health security is vital for sustainable development

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