UN Task Force on NCDs: Royal Thai Government Thailand working with UN System to strengthen national NCD response

BANGKOK | 30 AUGUST, 2018 – To support the country’s response to epidemics of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), the Royal Thai Government today welcomed a high-level delegation representing the United Nations Interagency Task Force (UNIATF) on NCDs, led by World Health Organization (WHO) Deputy Director-General Dr Soumya Swaminathan.

“Thailand understands that NCDs pose a major threat to public health and development and must be tackled tactically and urgently,” said Dr Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn, Minister of Public Health, when meeting the UNIATF mission.

Today, NCDs, primarily heart disease, stroke, cancers, diabetes and chronic lung diseases, account for 71% of deaths in Thailand1, or 400 000 people each year. Most deaths from NCDs occur prematurely and can be prevented. The main risk factors driving Thailand’s rapidly rising burden of NCDs are tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity.

NCDs are draining Thailand’s health budget for universal health coverage (UHC) and hitting the national economy hard. In 2009, the economic cost of NCDs was an estimated 198,512 million THB, or 2.2% of GDP, due to premature deaths and loss of productivity among the workforce.

In response, Thailand has pioneered innovative policies and programs but still faces numerous challenges in achieving its NCD-related goals. The government has prioritized the strengthening of UHC, striving to deliver high quality health care to its citizens and provide financial protection for people needing healthcare.

In addition, it has implemented key measures to protect the public against NCD risks. This includes implementing progressive tobacco control policies, banning transfat, promoting physical activity and introducing last year a tax on sugar sweetened beverages (SSB). As a result, tobacco use is decreasing and there are indications that producers of sugary beverages are reformulating products to reduce their sugar content.

“Thailand has been a trail blazer in progressive policies for tobacco and alcohol control, as well as the promotion of physical activity,” said Dr Swaminathan, WHO Deputy Director-General, who during her mission visited health facilities in northeast Thailand benefiting from the country’s strong approach to universal health coverage. “However, NCDs remain a serious threat to health and development in Thailand. To beat NCDs, Thailand now needs to step up action across all sectors and this requires leadership from the highest levels of government to ensure that the health and well-being of people are central to all public policies.

Responding to the NCDs challenge requires coordinated action by not only health sector, but many others, including transport, urban planning, education and finance. Thailand has developed a strong strategy linking different government sectors to work together on tackling NCDs and their risk factors. But to succeed, every government agency must invest and take actions to promote health and beat NCDs.

During the visit, a forum was held to encourage high level participation of different government departments and ministries in the prevention and control of NCDs to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This includes SDG target 3.4 to reduce premature death from NCDs by one-third by 2030.

The mission was conducted to also support the Government’s efforts to promote mental health and well-being, and reduce injuries from road traffic accidents and other causes. Represented were WHO, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), UNAIDS, UNICEF, UN Women, the World Food Programme, and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

“Preventing and controlling NCDs is everyone’s business,” said Ms. Deirdre Boyd, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Thailand. “The UN Country Team here in Thailand is committed to work together to beat NCDs. As a result of this mission we will be working even harder to support the Government to tackle the main causes of heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes in Thailand through evidence-based multisectoral action.”

The UNIATF mission comes at a crucial moment as world leaders prepare to participate in the United Nations General Assembly Third High-level Meeting on NCDs, being held in New York on 27 September 2018.

1. http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/258940/9789241513029-eng.pdf;jsessionid=7BFC7F02CB0BE81B9F3AA64ECC000F2F?sequence=1