People's Health Foundation
The fight against NCDs in Myanmar
Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) kill 41 million people each year, equivalent to 71% of all deaths globally. 14 million people die ‘prematurely’ from NCDs, between the ages of 30 and 70. NCDs are the result of a combination of genetic, physiological, environmental and behavioural factors, but tobacco use, physical inactivity, the harmful use of alcohol and unhealthy diets all increase the risk of dying from a NCD. The main types of NCDs are cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes. Although sometimes thought of as ‘diseases of affluence’ over 85% of premature deaths from NCDs occur in low- and middle-income countries.
The People’s Health Foundation, is an NGO that strives to improve public health in Myanmar, with a focus on NCDs. They campaign for increased health warnings on tobacco products, bans of cigarette advertising and increased tax on tobacco to reduce smoking and its associated health impacts. In Myanmar, 43.8% of adult men smoke and 62.2% chew betel quid and/or tobacco. The People’s Health Foundation promote healthy living, through healthy eating, increased exercise and going smoke-free.
In September 2017, the Ministry of Health and Sports launched a campaign in collaboration with the People’s Health Foundation, to educate the public on the harms of chewing betel quid. The slogan of the campaign clearly indicates what is at stake: Avoid betel chewing, so you don’t regret your life choices. TV and radio spots illustrating the harm from betel chewing were shown on national TV and radio, and during movie screenings. It is a hard-hitting campaign, with testimonials of patients suffering from oral cancer as its cornerstone. This approach has proven effective in India and Thailand.
The People’s Health Foundation acknowledges that harmful habits established over many years don’t change overnight. They see the campaign and the banning of betel chewing in government offices, schools and hospitals in May 2016 as important first steps. But betel quid chewing remains a national health problem that merits a long-term approach combining education, regulation, enforcement and economic alternatives. A sample of people from different regions, ages and genders were surveyed after the campaign to gauge how effective it was, and their responses will be used to help design the next campaign. According to the research, 87% of people interviewed expressed concern about the effect of smokeless tobacco on their health while 84% said they remembered the campaign. Another 62% stated that they are trying to quit.
By raising public awareness and collaborating with the government to improve public health policies, the People’s Health Foundation are working to prevent people developing NCDs from their lifestyle and to reduce the number of premature deaths from NCDs in Myanmar. Their evidence based advocacy approach is having a great impact by educating the people of Myanmar on health risks and providing solutions for how to avoid NCDs.