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NCD fight wins global praise

 Staff Reporter

MUSCAT

The Sultanate’s efforts to tackle the growing menace of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) have won global recognition.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has come to praise the strides made by the Sultanate, from smoke-free souks to low-salt bread, businesses and communities which are leading the charge against NCDs such as heart and lung diseases, cancer and diabetes.

Guided by the country’s Nizwa Healthy Lifestyle Project, Oman’s oldest community-based health promotion project founded in 1999, many layers of society – from the national consumer protection authority and municipal authorities to various businesses – have joined forces to reduce risks that causes NCDs and, in turn, improve health, the WHO notes.

“All is going well, we will set a goal to disseminate these initiatives and put in place more examples,” says Dr Zahir Al Anqoudi, head of the NCDs section at the Ministry of Health and member of the Oman Anti-Tobacco Society.

Earlier this year, the Nizwa project launched two new innovative health promotion activities: the `tobacco-free souk’ and the healthy restaurants initiative.

WHO has selected Oman for integrated support to fast-track progress in achieving nine global targets to control NCDs.

WHO notes that its support also helped to lay foundations for the five strategic priorities for NCD prevention and control the nation is working towards: tobacco control, healthy diet, physical activity, healthy territories and integration of NCDs into primary health care.

Such collaboration has resulted in significant reductions of salt consumption. Reducing salt content in food was a measure supported by many local food producers, particularly the main bakeries who supply 90 per cent of all bread products. The government is now committed to additional legislation to regulate fats and sugars.

Community centres, restaurants and markets have become focus areas to tackle two big NCD risk factors – diet and tobacco.

The tobacco-free souk in Nizwa was a big step, says WHO. The healthy restaurants initiative is one of the few of its kind in the Eastern Mediterranean Region.

“We will make sure that the implementation of the initiatives will happen through proper awareness and training,” says Nizwa municipality director Yarub Al Yahyaee.

Since 2015, the Sultanate has been successful in achieving a 10 per cent reduction of salt content in bread items. In 2016, this initiative established a more ambitious objective of 20 per cent reduction broadening its focus to cheese as well.

A national monitoring team is controlling the progress in salt and fat reduction. A proposal to reduce saturated fat like palm oil is being considered.

“It’s encouraging to see such genuine commitment from the food and beverage industry in Oman to try to work towards making a change for the betterment of health,” says WHO Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office NCD director Dr Asmus Hammerich.