WHO NCD portal

WHO releases data portal on NCDs in small island nations

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has released a data portal on NCDs in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) highlighting some of the highest prevalence rates of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and mental health risks in the world. The data shows over half of people in SIDS are dying prematurely from NCDs and the rate of hypertension is over 30% in almost all of the countries.

Ten of the countries with the highest rates of obesity worldwide are small island states. The highest prevalence of diabetes among adults in the world is also projected to be in SIDS. Rates of mental health conditions reach as high as 15% in the Pacific and Caribbean.

The portal allows users to explore the burden of NCDs in the 40 WHO Member States classified as SIDS, providing detail on the morbidity and mortality of the main NCDs as well as the prevalence of their key underlying risk factors and information on the actions these countries have or have not taken to address NCDs.

Pacific Island countries you can look up data for include Tonga, Cook Islands, Fiji, Samoa and Niue. 

It was released to mark a two-day high-level technical meeting on NCDs and mental health with SIDS hosted by the Government of Barbados, the WHO, and the Pan American Health Organization in Barbados recently. 

“Countries are facing multiple overlapping crises. The climate crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic, combined with poverty, unemployment, inequality and the marginalization of minority communities are fueling an increase in non-communicable diseases and mental health conditions,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO.

“To address these challenges, we need to hear from affected communities about the challenges they face and the solutions that work in diverse settings. We look forward to working with SIDS to achieve ambitious outcomes on NCDs and mental health.” 

SIDS countries are disproportionately exposed to the impact of the climate crisis on both physical and mental health. The high prevalence of risk factors for NCDs such as tobacco use, low physical activity, unhealthy diet and obesity, coupled with weak integration of NCDs and mental health services in Primary Health Care (PHC) and Universal Health Coverage (UHC), left populations vulnerable to becoming severely ill with COVID-19. This placed further pressure on already strained health systems. Progress and investment in NCD prevention and control, as well as mental health promotion and care, remain inadequate. 

At the meeting, countries identified key recommendations to scale up action on NCDs and mental health to achieve the SDG target of a one third reduction in premature mortality from NCDs and suicide before 2030.

The recommendations include concrete actions to accelerate collaboration for the early detection, prevention and management of NCDs and mental health conditions across SIDS; strengthening health systems in the face of the climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic; promoting health and preventing NCDs with a focus on tackling obesity; providing adequate, sustainable resources (financial and human) for NCDs and mental health; and strengthening information systems for health. These recommendations will also inform the outcome document to the Ministerial Meeting in June 2023. 

The meeting heard that SIDS are at the forefront of rolling out low-cost, high-impact solutions to reduce the most common risk factors of NCDs and mental health. Examples of successful prevention and treatment interventions in SIDS countries include the use of health taxation; including health into climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts; campaigns on physical and mental health and wellbeing; expanding treatment coverage for NCD and mental health as a part of the national UHC effort; and maintaining NCD and mental health services during health emergencies.

The meeting also provided a platform to address commercial drivers of NCDs. Trade agreements and policies, through their influences on price, availability and promotion of food products, cigarettes, and alcohol, have accelerated the transition away from traditional diets and nutrition. This process has contributed to the alarmingly high levels of obesity, food insecurity and NCDs in SIDS countries.

The meeting’s agenda will also inform and contribute to preparations for the High-Level Meeting of the UN General Assembly on UHC in 2023, the Fourth High-Level Meeting of the UN General Assembly on NCDs to be held in 2025 and future global health summits on mental health and climate change.

(Covid-19 photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash)