Washington, March 27, 2009 (PAHO)—The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) this week urged health advocates from throughout the Americas to become partners in a public-private effort to fight chronic noncommunicable diseases in Latin America and the Caribbean through actions aimed at changing policy, reducing risk factors, and improving treatment.
The call to action came during a two-day meeting held at PAHO headquarters in Washington, D.C., to create a new Partners' Forum for Prevention and Control of Chronic Diseases in the Americas.
The forum, said James Hospedales, coordinator of chronic disease prevention for PAHO, will serve as a platform for uniting people from government, the private sector, and civil society to raise awareness of chronic diseases, advocate for public policy changes, share successful practices, and build a dynamic, cross-sector coalition of actors supporting these efforts.
"Fighting chronic diseases is not just the responsibility of the health sector," said Hospedales. "We need action in agriculture, transportation, education, private industry, and a wide cross-section of society. And we need to work together to mobilize leadership at the highest political levels."
Chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer and diabetes, are now the leading causes of death and illness in Latin America and the Caribbean, accounting for 75 percent of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) in the region. Their rise stems from an increase in a handful of preventable risk factors, mainly unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, tobacco use, and harmful use of alcohol.
PAHO's new Partners' Forum will mobilize efforts to address these risk factors through policy and regulatory changes; by promoting behavior change at the individual, family and community levels; and through cooperation with the private sector, including the food and pharmaceuticals industries and the media.
PAHO has already mobilized similar efforts through its Trans Fat Free Americas initiative, which brings together nutrition experts, government regulators, and representatives of the food industry in efforts to eliminate trans fatty acids in industrially produced foods in Latin America and the Caribbean. Five Latin American countries and Puerto Rico so far have enacted or proposed legislation requiring limits on and labeling of trans fat content in processed foods, and companies throughout the region are voluntarily reducing trans fats in their products.
The new Partners' Forum, said Hospedales, will capitalize on growing public and political concerns about healthcare quality and costs, and demand for "policies that put people first" in transportation, climate change and the environment, trade, and agriculture.
"Consumer concerns today are synergistic with prevention and health promotion," said Hospedales. "We have new opportunities to promote things like biking and walking, public transportation, locally grown food, and healthier agro-industry. Our Partners' Forum will catalyze efforts in all these areas to make the healthy choice the easy choice."
Participants in this week's meeting (above) included representatives of health-related nongovernmental organizations, ministries of health and universities in PAHO member countries, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, EMBARQ/WRI Center for Sustainable Transport, the International Fruit and Vegetable Alliance, and the Nutrition Institute of Central America and Panama (INCAP). Also present were representatives of World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centers in the areas of chronic disease policy, physical activity, and occupational health.
The new Partners' Forum for Prevention and Control of Chronic Diseases in the Americas is being spearheaded by PAHO with the support of the Pan American Health and Education Foundation and with seed financing from the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation. At the global level, WHO is currently developing a similar Partners' Council for Prevention and Control of Chronic Diseases, with counterpart organizations in each of WHO's six regions.
The Partners' Forum will support a range of regional efforts to prevent and control chronic disease, promote health, improve diets and increase physical activity, and improve access to quality health services.
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PAHO, founded in 1902, works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of their peoples. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).
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