Noncommunicable diseases and their risk factors

UN Task Force on NCDs: scaling-up its efforts to reduce the catastrophic number of premature deaths

The United Nations Interagency Task Force on the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs) carried out a joint mission to Kuwait from 7 to 11 April 2017 to support the Government of Kuwait in their efforts to tackle NCDs.

Mission team with UNRC and some of the UNCT members following the debrief

NCDs - principally cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases cause 73% of all deaths in the Kuwait and the probability of dying prematurely from these diseases is 12%. The key risk factors for NCDs in Kuwait are tobacco use, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity: 40% of men smoke, including one quarter of 13 year olds; over six in 10 adults are insufficiently physically active; and more than 8 in 10 people eat insufficient quantities of fruit and vegetables.

“The social and economic costs of NCDs in Kuwait are growing every year, and the Joint Mission provides a powerful catalyst to encourage ever greater action here in Kuwait,” said His Excellency Sheikh Abdullah Al Salem Al Ali Al Sabah, Assistant Secretary General of the Cabinet for Information and Decision Making Support. “In my view NCDs is now an emergency here in our country. The Cabinet will review the recommendations of the Joint Mission in order to increase our efforts throughout Kuwait to prevent and control NCDs.”

The Mission found that 77% of Kuwaiti adults are overweight and 40% are obese; one quarter has high blood pressure and over one half has raised levels of cholesterol. Taken together, a staggering 50% of young adults (i.e. those aged 18 to 44 years) have three of more of the following five risk factors: smoking, inadequate fruit and vegetables, physical inactivity, overweight and raised blood pressure.

The mission discussed "the most effective interventions for tackling NCDs in Kuwait, , including raising taxes on tobacco products and foods high in salt, sugar and some fats". “These are highly cost effective and feasible to undertake. If implemented they can result in dramatic reductions in NCDs over a fairly short period of time,"

Dr Asmus Hammerich
Acting Director for Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health in WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Region

The Joint Mission included representatives from the following agencies: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UNHABITAT, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO), which led the mission.

The UN Task Force mission was invited because the Government of Kuwait is absolutely committed to reducing the burden of NCDs. According to Ministry of Health officials the social and economic burden of these diseases is intolerable. The epidemic of NCDs requires all parts of government to work together in order to provide a healthy environment for our people. Tackling NCD’s is a priority for this Government and is central to country’s broader development agenda, and the support of the UN Task Force is crucial to support actions.

The UN Task Force reviewed Kuwait’s National NCD Action Plan in the context of its broader development plans. The Joint Mission met with a number of ministries across Government, including Finance, Commerce and Industry, Education, Information, and Planning and Development. The Joint Mission members also met with the Health Committee of the National Assembly and visited the Hawaly and the Capital Governorates, and presented a set of evidence-based and highly feasible interventions to turn the tide of NCDs in Kuwait.

“The Joint Mission is very concerned with the situation in Kuwait with regards NCDs. We welcome the National NCD Action Plan but believe that Kuwait has to scale up its efforts significantly if it is to reduce the catastrophic number of premature deaths – most of which are available,” said WHO’s Dr Nick Banatvala, who heads the Task Force’s Geneva-based Secretariat.

Naseem Awl, Deputy Representative of UNICEF’s Gulf Area Office said evidence shows children are now developing risks factors for NCDs from early childhood through to adolescence. “We must therefore emphasize the need for comprehensive nutrition and health strategies that reach children and adolescents through families, schools and communities,” Ms Awl said.

NCDs represent a development issue at the core of the Sustainable Development Goals, said UN Resident Coordinator in Kuwait, Zineb Touimi-Benjelloun. “Member States need to accelerate their efforts to meet the NCD-related SDG,” she said.” UN agencies in Kuwait are committed to strengthening their action to help the country respond to NCDs including and beyond the health sector.”

The Joint Mission highlighted that the Kuwait Master Plan and the development of four new cities present significant opportunities for developing healthier environment for the future residents of these cities.

“Together we must develop living spaces that promote healthy lifestyles. Improved access to open spaces and other recreational facilities that promote physical activity and reduce pollution are critical,” said Dr Graham Alabaster, Chief of Waste Management and Sanitation, UN-Habitat. “Additionally, the availability of disaggregated health data can enable existing urban centres target the most vulnerable communities with interventions to reduce NCDs.”

A mission report is being finalized to guide Kuwait’s response to the challenge of reducing premature mortality for NCDs. Kuwait and other countries in the world will be reporting on their progress in preventing and controlling NCDs at the UN General Assembly in 2018.