Coherence could help the fight against NCDs
More coherence between health, trade and investment laws, policies and sectors could play an important role in combatting non-communicable diseases in the Pacific.
More coherence between health, trade and investment laws, policies and sectors could play an important role in combating non-communicable diseases in the Pacific.
The United Nations Development Programme says health and trade interests in the region are often developed in silos and end up undermining each others efforts.
Ferdinand Strobel from the UNDP told Koroi Hawkins that with the right legal framework they could be made to work together to help fight NCDs.
FERDINAND STROBEL: We can't address and have this view just from providing medicines once people are sick. We need to go much more to the root causes, particularly for non-communicable disease. Again, because they are not just transmitted by an infectious pathogen. You need to go to the lifestyle to prevent these diseases. And how do you address lifestyles is by changing the environment that shapes the behaviour of people who have these lifestyle diseases.
KOROI HAWKINS: So what kind of things can you do or what kind of laws can you put in place to change lifestyles?
FS: Well the law plays an enabling role and also regulatory role. So for tobacco control it is very clear. We know now, and something we perhaps didn't know very well 30 years ago that tobacco kills. It's a poison and there is now an international legal instrument to address tobacco control. It is called, Framework Convention for Tobacco Control. This is a legally-binding agreement and it is a host of legislation and regulations that controls tobacco. You are aware in New Zealand it is the same. This agreement has been very broadly endorsed and ratified by many countries so legal instruments can and are absolutely necessary to control tobacco. For the other risk factors it is a bit more complex, it is a bit more difficult but the law plays a fundamental role into how societies are organized. So the law has also a role to play. Fundamentally trade law is an important area and that is one of the area that we are looking at during this workshop.
KH: And we all know with laws in the Pacific enforcing laws is often a problem. Is that something you are looking at as well?
FS: Yes this is, you rightly pointed it is not just good to have good laws on the books but it is being able to enforce them and so that is definitely something we are looking at. Particularly in the context of Tobacco control many, many Pacific actually I think 14 of them have signed up to this convention on Tobacco control. But they are not yet able to properly enforce what they have signed up to.
KH: And going back to you mentioned before about trade laws, are your talking about limiting or managing the kind of produce that comes through apart from Tobacco?
FS: Not is a little bit, it is primarily bringing more coherence between health laws and trade laws. And often these areas are, if you like, developed in silos and also implemented in silos. So you know not just specifically about law but you were talking about enforcement. What really matters in the end is to make sure that one arm of the government is not undermining what another arm of the government is trying to do. So when the, for example, Pacific Islands or other countries for instance negotiate trade agreements. They have to make sure that they can safeguard a policy space for health. Or that what they sign on trade agreements which are regulated or if you like administered by trade law they are not undermining they are for example signed up for under the framework convention for Tobacco Control or the other areas of law they may have in their own country.
KH: I think I came across an example of this just a few weeks ago with the opposition, an opposition MP in Samoa criticising the government for giving a license for a cigarette making company in Apia despite huge health campaigns to stop smoking and (promote) better lifestyles and combat NCDs.
FS: Well I can't comment on this specific case because really I am not close to it and I am not informed about this case. But you have numerous examples of inconsistencies or incoherence and that is what I was trying to say. So this workshop is really about bringing people who are from different departments and different sectors of government. To bring in people from the health sector with people from the justice or you know the legislation sector, attorney generals offices and lawyers, government lawyers, together with people from trade to discuss these issues and look at these issues together. And it is quite surprising that, or unsurprising depends on how you look at it, but they don't really approach these issues together in a coherent manner. And for a lot of them it is a discovery. I had people who are participating in this workshop coming to and saying it is really good, it takes this kind of workshop for me to actually engage on these critical issues for the development of our country and for the health of our own people. It takes this regional workshop for me to talk to my colleague from health and to realise how much we have in common and how much we should be working together more to address this major crisis that we have in the region.
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