Educating people on how to reduce their risk factors has not been effective in reducing sickness and deaths due to noncommunicable diseases. As such, we need to take concrete action on preventive health,” said public health expert Dr. Antonio P. Dans.
Speaking during the 4th Metrobank Foundation’s Doña Victoria Tytana Memorial Lecture, Dans recommended a shift from education and counseling on preventive health to intensified tobacco control initiatives and proactive promotion of healthy eating and regular physical activity in communities, schools and workplaces, in order to stem the epidemic of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Dans based his recommendations on a 2011 Cochrane review of 55 clinical trials.
Also called “lifestyle diseases,” NCDs are a group of conditions that includes cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes mellitus and chronic lung diseases. In the developing world, the Philippines is one of 23 countries that contribute around 80 percent of the total disease burden due to NCDs. Four of the 10 leading causes of death in the country are NCDs. The top three killers of Filipinos are heart disease, vascular diseases and cancer.
A new study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer released on June 2012 predicts that global cancer cases will rise by 75 percent by 2030, in part because many developing countries are adopting Western lifestyles linked to cancer.
This is exactly what is happening to the Philippines. Experts warn that because cancer is such an expensive disease to treat, developing countries need to focus on prevention. Indeed, experts note, even developed countries cannot afford to pay for some of the newer, targeted cancer treatments.
Novartis Healthcare Philippines agrees with Dans’ recommendations. A population-based preventive healthcare approach remains the most cost-effective solution to the growing threat of NCDs in the country. This is particularly true in geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas with inadequate healthcare infrastructure and limited health human resources.
This year’s Doña Victoria Tytana Memorial Lecture was held last June 7 at the Manila Doctors Hospital. This writer was invited to the lecture as a representative of Novartis Healthcare Philippines and to serve as one of three reactors to Dans’ lecture. Novartis Healthcare Philippines is the recipient of the Department of Health 2012 Outstanding Healthy Lifestyle Advocacy Award.
A laudable DOH initiative is the National Healthy Lifestyle Program, which aims to reduce the prevalence of major risk factors, specifically smoking, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity, as well as the prevalence of associated risk factors, specifically stress and alcohol use.
To support the DOH healthy lifestyle program, Novartis implements two key advocacies.
Be Healthy is a Novartis group-wide initiative to help employees of Novartis Group companies around the world embrace healthy lifestyles. It is part of our company’s ongoing effort to foster a work environment that encourages employees to take an active role in managing their health.
As a member of the World Economic Forum (WEF) Workplace Wellness Alliance, Novartis prioritizes employee health and wellbeing. The WEF Alliance was formed as a response to the growing global burden of NCDs. Through this collaboration, our health promotion focus at Novartis has expanded beyond prevention to include healthy living and screening activities.
With Be Healthy, we are placing a particular focus on prevention. Studies show that workplace health and wellbeing programs addressing lifestyle changes can prevent up to 40 percent of NCDs.
Our “Be Healthy Initiative” helps Novartis employees worldwide adopt and stick to a healthy lifestyle. It is anchored on four pillars of healthy living:
Move—Increase physical activity and regular exercise. Employees have open access to the office gym and gym membership for our associates in the Philippines.
Choose—Healthy eating to keep in top shape at work and at home. Our office cafeteria offers healthy food options, nutritional snacks and low-calorie drinks.
Know—Know your numbers so you can take control of your health. Our Wellness Program helps employees monitor their health status and measure key health indicators such as blood pressure, fasting blood sugar and body mass index. Based on the results of key health indicators, company physicians work with associates to formulate a plan that helps them achieve a better quality of life.
Manage—Provide support for employees to maintain or regain their ability to perform.
The second element of our Making Health a Lifestyle initiative is our public health advocacies. We strongly believe that a healthy citizenry is vital to a strong and progressive society. Novartis employees help communicate our public health advocacies that support the DOH Healthy Lifestyle program.
Since 2008, Novartis Healthcare Philippines has partnered with the Philippine Society of Hypertension and the DOH in celebrating World Hypertension Day or WHD. During the annual WHD celebrations, Novartis and its partners implement innovative and fun healthy lifestyle initiatives to increase public awareness on hypertension, particularly in preventing, diagnosing early, and controlling this “silent killer.”
The key WHD activities are: Know your numbers by consulting a doctor and have your BP checked regularly; eat a low-salt, low-fat diet; exercise regularly; quit smoking; and manage stress.
WHD-related activities include press conferences, TV and print ads on a healthy lifestyle, a hypertension hotline, low-salt recipe contest, low-salt recipe book, dancexercise contest, photo contest on hypertension and diabetes control, and a contest on how to incorporate short workouts in the home and workplace.
New York City, through its famously public health-focused mayor Michael Bloomberg, provides an excellent preventive healthcare model that our country’s cities and municipalities could consider adopting.
In 2002, Bloomberg banned public smoking in all New York City bars and restaurants.
In 2005, at Bloomberg’s urging, New York became the first city to force restaurants and other food vendors to phase out the use of artificial transfats, which have been linked to obesity and heart disease.
In 2008, again through Bloomberg’s lobby, New York became the first city to pass a law requiring food-service providers to post calorie counts on menus.
In 2011, Bloomberg banned smoking in most outdoor areas in the city, including public parks, plazas and beaches.
This year, Bloomberg has set his sights on salt and soda. The mayor recently demanded that food makers and restaurants reduce sodium by 25 percent in their products and food offerings.
Last month, Bloomberg proposed a ban on the sale of large-sized sugar-sweetened beverages, such as sodas, sweetened teas and coffees, energy drinks and fruit drinks. If approved, the proposal would prohibit restaurants, delis, sports-arena vendors, movie theaters and food carts regulated by the city health department from selling sugary beverages in sizes larger than 16 ounces. Fines for failing to downsize could be as high as $200.
Government alone cannot adequately address the healthcare needs of Filipinos. Prevention is a shared investment that government, the private sector and individual Filipinos must make by providing a supportive environment for preventive health in schools, the workplace and communities.
The author is the corporate affairs and market access director of Novartis Healthcare Philippines.