Dr. Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al-Rabeeah (L), Minister of Health, cuts the ribbon at the opening of the International Conference on Healthy Lifestyles and Non-Communicable Diseases in the Arab World and the Middle East, Sunday night. — SPA photo
Saeed Al Khotani
RIYADH — On behalf of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah, Minister of Health Dr. Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al-Rabeeah opened Sunday night the International Conference on Healthy Lifestyles and Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) in the Arab World and the Middle East, with the presence of 14 health ministers.
The opening ceremony took place at Prince Sultan Gran Hall at Al-Faisaliyah Hotel, followed by a roundtable discussion attended by the participating health ministers, deputy health ministers, and top Saudi and international healthcare figures.
"The Kingdom called for and hosted this critical international gathering in recognition of its humanitarian responsibility to the world, in light of the alarming figures of the threat NCDs pose on public health almost all over the world," Dr. Al-Rabeeah said in his opening address.
He conveyed the warm greetings of King Abdullah to the participants and wished them a pleasant stay and fruitful meeting for the benefit of humanity.
"Since the dawn of humanity, religions called for being moderate in eating and drinking. Accordingly healthcare systems emphasized health nutrition habits, practicing physical activities and following dynamic lifestyles that preserve the health and well-being of mankind. But despite all these, the modern world is faced with wide-scale epidemics and serious illnesses that are threats to human life. This exhausts man’s resources, especially economically," he said.
Dr. Al-Rabeeah cited alarming figures on the threat of NCDs to people’s health. He said most recent statistics show that NCDs like cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory and kidney ailments, as well as tumor-caused diseases, cause the death of 36 million people globally. He said this figure is poised to rise to 52 million in 2030, prompted primarily by factors like obesity, smoking, and inactivity.
"These serious indicators prompted the United Nations, World Health Organization (WHO), governments, and international health organizations to focus on NCDs and encourage local, civil, not-for-profit organizations and the private sector in each country to device comprehensive and integrated plans for prevention and continuous awareness of the risks of these diseases," he said.
Dr. Al-Rabeeah concluded his address by wishing that the conference would reach both scientific and practical recommendations to enable the region and the rest of the world to implement plans toward fighting NCDs. He wished these plans would reach communities and help save lives.
The Regional Director of WHO in the East of the Mediterranean, Dr. Alaaddin Al-Elwan, said NCDs can impact the Middle East’s future. He said the seriousness of these diseases is not limited to its health implications, but goes further to affect both the social and economical development of the people in the region.
Dr. Al-Elwan said that it was fortunate that the NCDs were mostly preventable, but for better prevention, there should be tangible political commitment at the highest levels of the concerned governments in the region, coupled with effective collaboration among all sectors of the society in these countries.
The comprehensive roundtable discussions included the health ministers and deputy minister, and representatives of the regional and global health organization concerned with NCDs and their effects on economy, policy, and life, like the WHO, Arab League, FIFA, and others.
Almost all the participants emphasized the importance of executing comprehensive health awareness campaigns and intensifying these across all media channels including new media, and establishing specialized satellite TV channels for this purpose.
The participants called for encouraging governments to allocate generous budgets for awareness and prevention of the NCDs, drafting strong legislations to combat the factors that lead to these diseases, and involving all sectors including education, media industry, and municipal services in the effort to combat NCDs.
Starting today until the conference’s conclusion on Wednesday, many pressing topics and issues on NCDs will be tackled in more than 10 scientific sessions to be held by over 60 local, regional, and international health experts. The sessions will be attended by physicians with various specialties, health-promoting specialists, healthcare workers, health and well-being activists, as well as government service and industry officials and experts.
The three-day conference aims to achieve a host of goals including raising political awareness on the increasing magnitude of NCDs and their serious implications and impact on health and socioeconomic development in the Arab world and the Middle East. It also aims toward strengthening political commitment for scaling up action across various government sectors, based on the UN General Assembly Political Declaration of September 2011. Its goals also includes serving as a platform for promoting national multi-sector NCD prevention and control programs in the region.
During the conference, evidence relating to the magnitude and impact of NCD on health and socioeconomic outcomes will be reviewed. Globally endorsed strategies and tools to address the epidemic of NCDs and cost-effective measures that countries can adopt in the areas of surveillance, prevention and improve healthcare for NCD will be presented.
It further aims to articulate a roadmap for action in countries of the Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMR) based on the UN declaration, and to strengthen international and regional cooperation for the prevention and control of NCDs, with a particular focus on expanding national capacity in countries of the region.
The recommendation of the conference will be submitted for consideration to the Arab Economic Summit scheduled to take place in January 2013 in Riyadh, according to the Arab League representative Lila Najm in her address.