(MENAFN - Arab News) On behalf of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, Minister of Health Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah opened a major international conference on lifestyle and noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) here yesterday.
In his inaugural speech, Al-Rabeeah called on all stakeholders to redouble efforts to combat the growing prevalence of NCDs in the Arab world and the Middle East region.
Members of the royal family, health ministers from the member states of the Arab League, stakeholders representing the private sector, government officials, policy makers and health care providers attended the ceremony at Faisaliyah Hotel. Al-Rabeeah also formally cut the ribbon to open a health exhibition organized on the sidelines of the event.
The minister said noncommunicable diseases are responsible for more deaths worldwide than all other causes combined and "our region has not been immune to this rising epidemic." He warned that some 52 million people are forecast to die annually by 2030 from the current annual deaths exceeding 36 million, if NCDs are not controlled effectively."
"It is time to make a real investment in health care now, not only to help patients currently suffering from noncommunicable diseases but also to stem the rising numbers of the NCDs in our region," said the health minister, while referring to the teachings of Islam and principles of science, which also prescribe people to refrain from gluttony. He said that obesity, use of tobacco and physical inactivity are major reasons of the growing number of people suffering from NCDs.
He further said that he looks forward to the day when each and every country in the region has a clear line to deal with the prevention of noncommunicable diseases in a serious manner. He also appreciated the role of the UN agencies, especially the World Health Organization, which have been instrumental in generating substantial awareness about these diseases on different levels globally.
Al-Rabeeah, however, called for additional collaboration throughout the region, noting that the shared culture, language and experience in the region make it ideal for partnerships. He also stressed the need for joint projects, particularly with regard to noncommunicable diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes on national, regional and global levels.
Speaking on the occasion, Abdullateef Zayani, GCC secretary-general, recalled the decision of the GCC Health Ministers Council to implement a joint plan to intensify health education programs and to activate the Gulf plan to combat noncommunicable diseases in the region. The decision was taken at the 72nd conference of the GCC Health Ministerial Council in Muscat recently, he added.
"In fact, a set of decisions were taken by the GCC ministers on combating noncommunicable diseases including the adoption of the GCC Supreme Council's Resolution No 32 of the Riyadh Summit in 2011 to serve as the main course of action in this regard," said Al-Zayani, adding that Saudi Arabia is doing excellent work. He said that the other GCC states have also come forward with different initiatives to combat NCDs.
The conference was also addressed by other top officials yesterday including Ala Alwan, chief of the WHO regional office for the Eastern Mediterranean. The international conference, which will run for three days, will focus mainly on prevention and control of NCDs in the Arab world and the Middle East.
The inaugural ceremony started with the recitation of the Holy Qur'an. Later, a roundtable discussion on a healthy lifestyle and the control of NCDs in the Arab world was organized in which health ministers from different Arab countries participated.
The roundtable discussion was moderated by Al-Rabeeah. A short film on NCDs portrayed the facts that the NCDs are by far the leading cause of mortality in the world, representing over 60 percent of all deaths.
The opening ceremony was also attended by representatives of health ministries of Arab countries, the World Health Organization, the Arab League and some UN agencies. A large number of local and international experts besides top Saudi officials, diplomats and health professionals were also present.
On the sidelines of the conference, six workshops will be organized including a workshop mainly focusing on balanced diet, lifestyle and diseases. This workshop will be conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture.
Another workshop entitled "exercise for a better life" will be conducted by the Kingdom's General Presidency of Youth Welfare. A workshop on nutrition and nutritional information will be organized by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in cooperation with the Riyadh-based Food & Drug Authority.
Another workshop on effective ways to use means of social communication and information technology for health awareness will be organized. A workshop on promoting research in the fields of control and prevention of noncommunicable diseases will also be organized, while the last workshop will focus on tobacco and its hazards.
The conference will also focus on the NCDs in global context with special reference to the increasing trend in developing countries where the transition imposes more constraints to deal with the problems.
A study shared at the conference and based on data from 36 countries reported that fish consumption is associated with a reduced risk of death from all causes. Unfortunately, the fish consumption is very low even in some countries known for their large fish stock like the North African region. Daily intake of fresh fruit and vegetables in adequate quantity (400"500 grams per day), is recommended to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure. But, once more, this is thwarted by the western lifestyle invading developing countries.