MOH News
Speech of the Minister of Health Before the International Conference on Countering Diabesity in Gulf Countries
20 October 2015
In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Graceful
 
Your Excellencies,
Ladies and gentlemen,
                              May Allah's peace, mercy and blessing be upon you.
First off, I would like to express my overwhelming happiness for convening with you today at this significant international conference, which touches upon the interrelated issues of obesity and diabetes intensifying in our region, and draining much of our medical efforts and finances that could be harnessed in other directions to achieve added medical values in the fields of research and development of health services for citizens. Also, I would like to extend my deepest thanks to you for participating in the discussions and developing solutions for those critical and most prevalent health issues in our gulf communities. Additionally, I would like to commend the efforts of the effective partnership that enabled us to organize this conference between the governmental agencies, including the Ministry of Health (MOH), the Executive Bureau of the GCC Health Ministers Council, represented by Dr. Tawfik Khoja, the civil society organs represented by the Saudi Community of Family and Community Medicine, Dr. Saud Al-Hassan, and the National Diabetes Center (NDC).
 
These efforts of fine organization and preparation of this conference, have been exerted to facilitate, Allah willing, the presentation of the best scientific and practical experiences during the sessions; help in developing preventive and therapeutic programs; boost the efforts of confronting obesity and diabetes, and alleviate, as much as possible, the economic burden they pose. 
 
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Referring to the reports of the World Health Organization (WHO), we find, amongst the facts observed therein, that in only three decades, the rate of obesity prevalence worldwide more than doubled, and that diabetes is expected to become the 7th main cause of death by 2030. 
 
It's to be noted that the biggest contributor to the increase of these diseases, at the global level, is the developing world, especially since the rates in these countries are twice those in the developed ones. It is enough to know that diabetes incidence rates in the GCC countries ranges from 15% to 20%.
 
It is worthwhile to mention here that the risk is not limited to the human life, but also the state resources, due to the economic burden associated with it. In this respect, the report of the world economy on non-communicable diseases, issued in 2011, indicates that the costs of providing treatment for diabetes reached about US$ 500bn, and expected to amount to US$ 750bn by 2030.
 
Dear attendees,
Our Gulf community is at risk, and it's no secret that our community is young, with the majority of citizens are aged below 30 years; therefore those two diseases threaten our true wealth - the youth. It's alarming and distressing, at the same time, to have our young communities amongst the top twenty countries with obesity prevalence worldwide. Studies and researches link that to the spread of unhealthy lifestyles and eating habits, and the lack of physical activity in our communities, which in turn results in the increasing risk of diabetes. Despite the certain risk of these problems, I would like to mention that they are only the tip of the iceberg of many health problems and risks suffered by our communities, which obliges us to work effectively within the public health system.
 
There is no doubt that health security is one of the principal pillars of the national security, which the GCC countries are seeking to make one of their most important unified and common objectives through maintaining safety and health of the people. So, it was necessary to make change in the plans, means and mechanisms intended to raise level of the community health awareness of these two diseases; reduce the chances of developing them; control their complications, as well as activate the joint initiatives amongst all ministries, academic, scientific sectors, and civil associations to bring about the anticipated change.
 
We hope in this respect to take advantage of some successful international experiences. In spite of the steady increase of obesity and diabetes diseases worldwide, some countries have succeeded in changing the directions of these diseases into positive paths. For instance, Finland succeeded, during the seventies and nineties of the last century, to reduce mortality rates related to heart, diabetes and obesity diseases by 73%, making use of a community engagement program, in which the collaboration of different governmental, non-governmental agencies, and civil organs with providers of health services was the most important factor of success of this international experience. Previously, Finland topped the international list of the mortality rates resulting from heart attack, but it has moved to the 19th position globally due to the change of behaviors. It’s also a source of pride for us to highlight successful experiences of some GCC countries, for instance the experiences of Nizwa city in Sultanate of Oman, and Muharraq city in Bahrain, which sought to counter and control such risks, and promote healthy lifestyles.
 
Dear honored attendees,
The plans of controlling these diseases in the GCC countries must exceed treatment to prevention, and move towards promotion of healthy lifestyles. Fighting diseases and lowering their rates necessitate reducing their causes. We are also working in the Kingdom through an integrated system of public health, which has been activated, but we have to double our work and integrate efforts and initiatives. Hence, the priorities of health policies in the Kingdom will shift gradually from focusing on treatment to prevention. To that effect, the slogan of the Ministry which goes "Patient First" will be changed to "Health First", and I suggest, tonight, that we order our programs based on several key factors. Five of them are:  
  • First: Changing lifestyles: It's no secret that the consumption style that parallels with the financial abundance and means of welfare in the GCC states is one of the main causes of obesity and diabetes, and has negative impacts on public health. The surrounding environment also plays a major role in promoting health behaviors of individuals and communities. It is also considered one of the most important pillars of health promotion, and its main elements include paying attention to the quality of food and adopting of certain policies to control food marketing without overlooking provision of means and facilities that encourage citizens of all categories to practice sports and physical activities. By all categories, I mean every citizen, including the elderly and people with special needs. In this regard, we take a good example in the Finish experience, where the Finish citizen managed to change his nutrition habits, after discovering that heavy reliance on meat and animal fat in his diet is the reason for clogged arteries and heart attack disease, which is the number one cause of death for young people below the age of thirty.
  • Second: Good upbringing and education: Home and family in the Gulf States, constitute the core influence on lifestyle and choices of children. Such choices are always based on monitoring the lifestyle of the parents and copying their behaviors. Also we should not overlook the role of school, which can be the main factor of prevention for all diseases, through adopting what we may call "Health-enhanced school", by means of strengthening the curriculum with health culture, intensifying awareness programs in them, promoting the physical education programs and balanced diets. All of those are intended to promote students' health; educating them at their early school days; changing their health lifestyle; reviewing physiological needs of teens and children; monitoring and prevention of their risky behaviors; and enhancing health and environmental education programs. In this regard, I have to refer here to the unique experience of the Kingdom of Finland, which occupies the world first place in education, and its reflection on the level of public health.  
  • Third: Awareness and media: Besides the education plans that I have already pointed out to, there is also a prominent role to be played by media and social networking sites in educating the new generation, especially on health risks, types of negative behavior, and the positive impact of good behaviors on the health of individual and society. In this regard, making a strong and permanent link between health, education, and media plans constitutes a cornerstone for building a healthy, vigilant and educated society. When talking about the youths, we must shed a light on the effective and prominent role played by the new media and information technology in fighting many health risks, which we are facing, through comprehensive awareness programs.   
  • Fourth: Overall partnership between all state institutions: The fight against all these diseases requires an effective participation of all community sectors and institutions, as well as concluding long-term partnerships with civil society associations and national companies in order to have a healthy community, free of non-communicable diseases. Since the GCC states are witnessing a highest level of construction of quality medical projects and global medical centers, the health ministries in the Council's States should work for creating effective partnerships with the private sector institutions of medical and health services, and sustain the available and potential investment opportunities in the medical services sector to move beyond advanced medicine and integrated hospitals, and establish primary healthcare and preventive services centers. So, all of those institutions will be having an active role in redirecting the behavioral patterns related to the health affairs and raising awareness of preventive health. Engagement of individuals in preventive health programs will reduce expenses of treatment and increase the level of involvement of individuals in these programs, leading to equalization of interests of individuals, institutions and society. I would like to reiterate that the civil society organizations have a main role to play through strategic partnerships.    
  • Fifth: Research and studies:  The decision-maker of successful health systems depends on the evidence before moving forward to take decision, giving research an instrumental factor in the development of health services. Therefore, any health system that doesn't rely on research as a means of development is considered disorganized and floundering. This leads us to believe that conducting researches, especially concerning public health, is no longer an option but a must. Proceeding from this, I call upon researchers and students at universities and research centers to exert their utmost efforts to serve the priorities issues in their countries and contribute to solving them. On our part, we will provide the appropriate environment to back this trend, as we will facilitate the access of researchers to health information and we will work with our partners from other governmental bodies, such as King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, to provide appropriate financial support to serve our health priorities. This motivates us to establish a specialized research health center, following the example of the American National Institutes of Health (NIH), which has become essential for health services development. 
Dear attendees,
Before I finish, I would like to once again express my thanks and appreciation for the efforts exerted by all participants in the conference. I'm keenly looking forward to the conference scientific and practical outcomes, so that we can sustain these efforts to confront the phenomena of obesity and diabetes, with a holistic preventive perspective for upgrading public health in our communities, and pave the way for new programs with cooperation between all health systems in the GCC states. We must emphasize the importance of raising the awareness level of the risks of the two diseases in order to adapt to our preventive trends, including setting appropriate health policies; enacting laws related to the public health and achieving the best precautionary measures to prevent them, especially since the significances of this conference represent a good opportunity for us to diagnose the reality and prescribe treatment so that our communities can maintain health at individual and national level.  
 
In conclusion, it is my pleasure to extend the loftiest and most sincere thanks to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, the Crown Prince, the Deputy Crown Prince, may Allah protect them, for their support and concern about the health sector, and their emphasis on the role of the MOH, as per the recently issued Royal directives. The Royal directives have boosted the role of the MOH and its ambitious programs and plans for the health sector in the Kingdom, particularly in the field of public health, noting that dealing with this great challenge is a joint responsibility and partnership between all other governmental sectors such as Ministry of Planning, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Culture and Information, Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs and other related sectors.
 
Lastly, I wish scholars, experts, specialists, the audience, and all supporting agencies and institutions success in this conference and that they come up with results and recommendations to draw a road map to control these diseases and their risks on the health of human and community.
 
Peace be upon you, mercy and blessings of Allah!
 
 



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