PANAH, CSA calls for speeding up health levy

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Islamabad,   (Parliament Times)  : Webinar on” Impact of Sugary Drinks on Obesity and Non Communicable Diseases” Pakistan National Heart Association (PANAH) and SUN Civil Society Alliance requested the government to expedite the health levy bill. The cost of non-communicable diseases in Pakistan will reach to USD 267 billion if no policy change has been made.

Islamabad. The delay in the health levy bill is costing the government more than 55 billion rupees annually. This has been shared during the webinar organized by Pakistan National Heart Association and Scaling Up Nutrition Civil Society Alliance in Collaboration with Global Health Advocacy Incubator. Representatives of more than 35 civil society organizations participated in the webinar across the country including national and international organizations. The speakers highlighted the harmful effects of sugar sweetened beverages and drinks on the health of people who regularly consume such drinks.

Among the dietary risk factors, excess sugar consumption is one of the major causes of obesity and its related diseases, increasing risk of diabetes, hypertension, liver and kidney damage, heart disease, and cancers. Consumption of Sodas and other sugary drinks are a high source of sugar. This was said by Mr. Nazeer Ahmed, Scaling Up Nutrition Focal Person at the Ministry of Planning, Development and Special Initiative. He said that increased consumption of sugary drinks is a threat to national development due to increased health care costs and hospital expenditures, in addition to an unhealthier workforce.

Ms. Courtney Peters Associate Director Global Health Advocacy Incubator shared that with 19.4 million cases, Pakistan has the 4th highest burden of diabetes worldwide. He shared that as per WHO NCDs caused over 800,000 deaths in Pakistan in 2016; out of which 68,000 were attributed to diabetes and high blood glucose. She said that drinking just one soda a day increases the likelihood of being overweight by 27% for adults and 55% for children. The early evidence indicates that Sugar Sweetened Beverages may have potentially addictive properties for adolescents and young adults.

Mr. Munawar Hussain from the Food Policy Program shared that evidence from Mexico, India, Australia, South Africa, United Kingdom and other countries suggests that imposing tax on sugary drinks is an effective strategy to reduce its consumption and generate revenue for the government which could be spent on sustainable health and nutrition programs. He shared that Pakistanis are spending more than 525 billion annually on the purchase of carbonated beverages, juices and energy drinks.

Mr. Sana Ullah Ghumman, General Secretary Pakistan National Heart Association(PANAH) which is working to aware general public and advocate laws for saving lives of thousands of our country fellows shared the progress and appreciated the support by Minister Health Dr. Faisal Sultan for its active follow up with Ministry of Finance to expedite the health levy bill which has been passed by the cabinet. He shared that the health levy bill covering tobacco and sugar sweetened beverages will generate more than 55 billion annually. This will be a win-win situation and the government will be able to fund sustainable health and nutrition programs.

Dr. Hamid Jalil, Member Food Security and Climate Change at the Ministry of Planning, Development and Special Initiative shared that today’s webinar is a call for immediate action. He suggested arranging a policy dialogue and an orientation session for legislators from all political parties during January 2021. He mentioned that his office will make all possible efforts to get the taxes imposed on sugar sweetened beverages during the coming budget.

Ms. Samia Khan, Chair Scaling Up Nutrition Civil Society Alliance said that it is unfortunate that obesity prevention was not much focused on our past policies as it should have been considered. Obesity is a gateway to a number of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). The NCDs contribute to 58% of the total deaths in the country. The economic burden of NCDs continues to rise and will reach to $296 million USD if no policy changes are made. We must take steps to address the Government’s spending on NCDs. She expressed her full support on her behalf and all members of SUN Civil Society Alliance.

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