By Javed Iqbal
 Murree (Parliament Times): The number of people living with diabetes has increased alarmingly in Pakistan in the last decade. Increased consumption of sugary drinks has led to an alarming rise in obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. According to the World Diabetes Federation, more than 33 million people across the country are currently living with diabetes.  If immediate policy measures are not taken, this number will increase to 62 per cent by 2045 in Pakistan.  This was said by the speakers at a workshop organized by Panah in Murree.  A large number of local journalists from Murree participated in the workshop apart from journalists from the twin cities.  The speakers emphasized reducing the consumption of sugary drinks by taxing them. Mr. Sanaullah Ghaman, General Secretary on behalf of Panah.  Mr. Manawar  Hussain, Consultant Food Policy Program Global Health Advocacy Incubator, renowned nutritionist Dr. Irshad Danish, representatives of civil society, and a large number of thinkers from electronic and print social media participated.  The event was hosted by Sanaullah Ghuman ,Manawar Hussain, Consultant Food Policy Programme, Global Health Advocacy Incubator, while addressing the workshop, said that apart from debt servicing, Pakistan is facing several major economic challenges and there is a need for policy measures to reduce expenditure and raise revenue. The annual health economic benefits of a 50 per cent excise tax on sweetened beverages would be approximately $9 million.  This would equate to an average annual tax of US $810 million over the next ten years. Increasing consumption of sugary drinks is a growing threat to health and economy in the country.  Taxing them could reduce their use, which would help reduce the thousands of deaths a year from diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and stroke.  This process will help in reducing the expenditure of billions of rupees on diseases. 
 Mr. Sanaullah Ghuman General Secretary Panah while addressing the workshop said that increasing the tax on sweet drinks is a win for the government in three ways.  Raising taxes costs the government nothing, helps reduce the burden of disease and hospital costs, and increases revenue.  He requested the Prime Minister, Finance Minister, and Health Minister of Pakistan to increase the Federal Excise Duty (FED) on all sugary drinks to at least 50% in the 2023-24 budget.  He added that increasing the tax on sugary drinks would not affect the common man, but the revenue generated from it could be used for social welfare programs for low-income earners and measures to improve public health.
 Talking to the journalists on this occasion, Mr. Sanaullah Ghuman said that the beverage industry was  misleading the policymakers at every step and creating obstacles in the policy process.He further said”  We are demanding that the government of Pakistan prioritize public health over the interests of the beverage industry,”.
 Other speakers called on the government to increase the tax on sugary drinks in the 2023-24 budget and use the revenue to make healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables available to the masses.  In addition, he demanded the government should  take all possible measures to control and prevent diabetes.  The journalist community urged to convey the voice of asylum to the government houses.
 In the end, General Secretary of Panah Sanaullah Ghuman thanked the participants of the workshop.
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