ISLAMABAD: The growing economic burden of diet-related non-communicable diseases is haunting the development of Pakistan. The religious leaders of the country have been urged to help raise awareness among the public on the harmful effects of sugary drinks during Ramadan and beyond. An Ulema conference was organized in this regard by Pakistan National Heart Association (PANAH) at a local hotel in Islamabad. The conference was attended by a large number of Ulema, civil society representatives, health professionals, and journalists.
Maj. Gen. (R ) Masud ur Rehman Kiani was the chief guest of the occasion. The guests included Mr. Munawar Hussain, Consultant Food Policy Program at Global Health Advocacy Incubator, Dr. Khawaja Masuood Ahmed from the Ministry of Health, Dr. Tanveer Ibrahim from the National Institute of Health, Mr. Tahir Sikandar D.S.P. Dr. Fayyaz Ahmad Ranjah, Executive vice president PANAH Dr. Abdul Qayyum Awan, civil society representatives, health professionals, and journalists.
“Unhealthy diet is the top reason for diseases and deaths in Pakistan. People are dying every minute due to diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and other chronic diseases. These precious lives could be saved by adopting healthier choices in the diet” said Maj. Gen. (R) Masud ur Rehman Kiani President at PANAH. “Ulema have great respect in Pakistani society and people listen to them more than anyone else. Sugary drinks are among the major contributors to these diseases. Ulema shall help to raise awareness among the public on the health harms of sugary drinks and other unhealthy food choices”, he added.
Mr. Munawar Hussain, Consultant Food Policy Program at Global Health Advocacy Incubator while referring to International Diabetes Federation’s Atlas said “Pakistan is ranked 3rd highest globally with 33 million people living with diabetes in 2021. If no policy action is taken immediately, the number of people living with diabetes will increase to 62 million by 2045”. He added “reducing consumption of sugary drinks can save thousands of lives annually and save hospital expenditure. Increasing tax on sugary drinks which passes the price to consumers is an evidence-based strategy to reduce their consumption. Saudi Arabia and many other countries have adopted this strategy to successfully reduce its consumption and related diseases”
“The tax increased during the supplementary finance bill was a great step by the government and has been widely appreciated among health professionals and civil society” said by Dr. Khawaja Masuood Ahmed, National Coordinator of Nutrition at ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination. He urged the Ministry of Finance to further increase this rate and also include an entire range of sugary drinks in it like flavored milk and iced teas etc.
Dr. Fiaz Ranjah said that Ulema plays an effective role to shape the opinion of the general public. Their consistent efforts can mobilize public support for this desirable policy change.
Mr. Sana Ullah Ghumman General Secretary PANAH said that we are working for the last 40 years to save the health of our people from the menace of non-communicable diseases in Pakistan. PANAH is working with policymakers to make unhealthy diets less affordable for the public. “Today we came to Ulema to seek their support on this noble cause of public health”, he said.
Mr. Tahir Sikandar D.S.P and Dr. Tanveer Ibrahim, Chief of Nutrition at the National Institute of Health also addressed the conference.