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June 7, 2018

Top Five Take-aways from The World Health Assembly

Last month, Vital Strategies brought several important causes into sharp focus at one of the most important annual events in global health, the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva. As the world’s highest health policy setting body, the WHA is the most significant platform we have to advocate with leaders about the critical need to prioritize noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and tuberculosis (TB) on the global agenda.

Here are the main takeaways from WHA.

1. We’re Taking Sugar, Salt and Fat off the Table

Vital Strategies brought together an international panel of public health leaders from Jamaica, Brazil and Denmark to host our first WHA side event ­­– “Reducing Sugar, Salt and Fat to Prevent NCDs.”  The event featured a thought-provoking discussion covering the benefits of banning trans fat, the impact of Vital Strategies’ sugary drinks and sodium-reduction campaigns, and case studies of industry efforts to block public health programs.

Watch the event on our Facebook page.

The panelists included (R-L) Dr. Søren Brostrøm, Director General of the Danish Health Authority; Dr. Tom Frieden, President and CEO of Vital Strategies’ Resolve to Save Lives; Dr. Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie, Chief Medical Officer in Jamaica’s Ministry of Health;  Paula Johns, General Director of ACT Health Promotion in Brazil; and Dr. Nandita Murukutla, Vice President of Global Policy and Research at Vital Strategies. Sandra Mullin, Senior Vice President of Policy, Advocacy and Communication at Vital Strategies, moderated the event and at the end were joined by Dr. T Pillay, Deputy Director General of Health Regulation and Compliance Management from South Africa’s Department of Health.

2. We joined a global commitment to eliminate trans fat

Recently, the WHO and Resolve to Save Lives released REPLACE, a step-by-step technical guide to eliminating trans fat from the global food supply. Increased intake of trans fat is associated with a higher risk of coronary heart disease and is responsible for more than 500,000 deaths each year. Vital Strategies’ Resolve to Save Lives initiative is helping to provide technical support and funding to the growing number of countries committed to this effort.

In Geneva, Dr. Frieden was joined by health leaders from Denmark, Argentina, Thailand, Portugal and Russia, who have committed to eliminate trans fat from their food systems. And, at a World Heart Federation side event, he spoke about hypertension and our goal of saving 100 million lives by reducing the number of people dying from heart disease and stroke in low- and middle-income countries.

Dr. Tom Frieden speaking at the REPLACE pop-up event.

3. We’re part of the movement to #EndTB

José Luis Castro joined his colleagues at The Union for the release of a report on childhood tuberculosis, “Silent Epidemic: A call to action against child tuberculosis.” An estimated 239,000 children die each year from TB, which is preventable if they receive standard treatment for the disease. Ninety percent of children who die from TB are untreated. See the report, which includes photos, charts and infographics, here.

José Luis Castro calling for high-level action to end TB.

4. We’re supporting a more comprehensive approach to patient treatment

Vital Strategies is supporting the NCD Alliance’s call to look past the narrow focus of single diseases, and focus on the whole patient when treating NCDs. At an event co-hosted by the NCD Alliance and Eli Lilly, “Healthcare for People, Not Siloes for Diseases,” Vital Strategies’ President and CEO José Luis Castro explained that in many LMICs age-old diseases are overlapping with new health challenges. “Tuberculosis patients struggle with complications from diabetes. Malnourishment and obesity persist in the same country, sometimes in the same individual,” he said.

José Luis Castro during the panel discussion, “Healthcare for People, not Silos for Disease.”

5. We’re saying #Enough to NCDs.

At an event for the NCD Alliance’s #ENOUGH campaign, José drove home the point that now is the time to demand action and say #Enough to the rising NCD crisis, which is responsible for eighty-five percent of premature deaths in low- and middle-income countries, yet receives minimal funding. “In four short months heads of government and state will convene in New York for the third UN High-Level Meeting on NCDs,” he said. “This meeting will serve as a tipping point—an opportunity for governments to turn their commitments into action and turbo charge the response.”

Vital Strategies also participated in the WHO 70th anniversary event: “Walk the Talk: Health for All Challenge.” José Luis Castro joined our staff in a run/walk through Geneva, kicked off by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and retired marathon champion Haile Gebrselassie, who led the runners through the starting line.

The Vital Strategies team at the Walk the Talk event in Geneva.
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