MOH News
Al-Falih Inaugurates the International Conference on Countering Diabesity in Gulf countries
21 October 2015
His Excellency the Minister of Health and the Chairman of the 40th session of the GCC Health Ministers Council, Eng. Khalid Al-Falih announced yesterday (Tuesday) Muharram 7th 1437H, (corresponding to October 20th 2015) at the conferences hall in the Intercontinental Hotel in Riyadh, launching of the events of the International Conference on Countering Diabesity in the Gulf Countries organized by the Executive Board of the GCC Health Ministers Council, in collaboration with the Saudi Society of Family and Community Medicine, the National Diabetes Center, with the participation of the Ministry of Health (MOH), and health related bodies and organizations from inside and outside the Kingdom. The conference will last for three days. 

His Excellency the Minister of Health said while addressing the opening session that "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". 

He commended the efforts of the effective partnership that enabled organizing 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). He added that the conference targets 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. 
 
Eng. Al-Falih referred to the reports of the World Health Organization (WHO), which stated thatin 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.  

He added 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, pointing out that diabetes incidence rates in the GCC countries range from 15% to 20%.
He went on to add 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". 

Eng. Al-Falih indicated that the Gulf community is at risk, and thatour community is young, with the majority of citizens are aged below 30 years; therefore those two diseases threaten our true wealth - the youth. He noted that "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", he expounded. 

He stressed 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".

Moreover, he proclaimed that" 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 the 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".

He also referred to the 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.

Eng. Al-Falih additionally said that, "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. He added that the Kingdom is working through an integrated system of public health, which has been activated, but our work and integrate efforts and initiatives must be doubled. 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".

Al-Falih pointed out to a number of key issues that included changing lifestyles, confirming 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. Also, the surrounding environment 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.

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.

The key issues also included the good upbringing and education where the 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.

He pointed out 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.

The third isuue covers awareness and media, noting that there is 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", he said. 

According to him, the key issues included overall partnership between all state institutions and 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.

The Minister went on saying that 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.

Speaking about the area of research and studies, he proclaimed that the decision-maker of successful health systems depends on the evidence before moving forward to take decision, which makes 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 on public health, is no longer an option but a must. In this respect, 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.

Al-Falih stressed that all sectors should provide the appropriate environment to back this trend, "We will facilitate the access of researchers to health information and 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."

Concluding his speech he expressed his thanks and appreciation for the efforts exerted by all participants in the conference saying, "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".

Then he extended thanks and appreciation 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 for 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. 

He wished 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.

It's to noteworthy that His Excellency the Minister of Health, Eng. Khalid Al-Falih, launched the website and the application related to obesity and diabetes, and honored the participating parties and the sponsors of the conference.

Additionally, he opened the accompanying exhibition which witnessed participation of more than 40 bodies from the public and the private sectors and other parties related to obesity and diabetes. 
  
For his part, the Director-General of the Executive Board of the Health Ministers’ Council of the GCC, Dr. Tawfik bin Ahmed Khoja, said that the support and sponsorship provided  by His Excellency the Minister of Health, Eng. Khalid Al-Falih for this significant scientific and regional event is an extension to the prominent and leading role of the esteemed Ministry of Health in Saudi Arabia in developing the health services in all medical and health facilities to catch up with the international developments. This in turn holds it up as an example to be emulated at the local, gulf, regional and international levels. 
  
He added that, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have adopted the vital and important health issues at the Gulf, regional and international levels, assuming its leading role and fully understanding of its great responsibility to realize the most noble goal, which is achieving safe healthcare within the international health system. 

Khoja maintained that the conference touches upon one of the most important contemporary issues set by the leaders and planners of health work at the top of their strategic priorities, represented in preventing and countering obesity and diabetes as the main part in countering the non-communicable diseases and the related risk factors.   
He went on to add that the early epidemiological statistics and studies in some GCC countries indicated that the pandemic spread of diabetes helped make the disease a health risk at national level. He added that the significance of this disease comes from the high rates of the incidences associated with its chronic complications, which raises its total costs at the national level, thus placing a huge burden on health services in the GCC countries. In this respect, the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed that the big burden on the healthcare costs is to increase by the year 2030 consuming 40% of the huge health budgets of the by this time.

He proclaimed that one out of every two persons in the GCC countries is suffering from obesity due to the increase of blood lipids (20.3-40.6%), and eight of ten persons due to lack of physical activity (34-81%), noting that the national scientific centers have started observing obesity and weight increase amongst the children and the youth in the council's states.    

Khoja highlighted the importance of raising community and family awareness of the seriousness of obesity and overweight, especially since children obesity is regarded as a main and future determinant of the health status in the GCC community. "Such pathological changes at these early ages are serious indicator of the high rates of the incidences of diabetes and heart diseases in the future in the Saudi and GCC communities alike," he expounded. 

He pointed out that the Gulf plan for Diabetes Control  have been subjected to several developments in the last years, including development of primary, secondary and tertiary health programs and plans, adoption of diabetes special awareness programs in the context of the awareness programs for combating non-communicable diseases, setting up a system for epidemiological surveillance, monitoring and evaluation of the diabetes, adoption of new methods of delivering health services to diabetics such as mini clinics specializing in primary health care and activation, and development of the role of health centers with regard to  prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. In addition, it witnessed the signing of the GCC health ministers' joint declaration on diabetes for the year 2007, approving the Gulf Executive Plan for Diabetes Control 2008, and appealing to the Council's States to form a higher national council for diabetes control on the basis that the diabetes is a national issue and the responsibility of all segments of society. Furthermore, the Gulf plan for Diabetes Control witnessed the issuance of Riyadh declaration on diabetes economics (November 2007), Jeddah declaration on the welfare of diabetics (February 2010) and Dubai declaration on diabetes and chronic non-communicable diseases in the Middle East and North Africa (December 2010).

Also, it witnessed the following resolutions: Manama document on control of non-communicable diseases (January 2011), Kuwait document on executive plan of the Gulf campaign for awareness of non-communicable diseases (2014), Masqat declaration on the economics of non-communicable diseases (January 2012), Riyadh declaration issued by the Global Conference on Healthy Lifestyles and Non-communicable Diseases in the Arab World and Middle East (September 2012), Kuwait declaration of Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases and Risk Factors in the Middle East (April 2013), Kuwait document for countering non-communicable diseases "together fighting non-communicable diseases" (development priority) (January 2014).

A number of "Gulf specialized strategic plans" have been developed by specialized technical committees, and will be further addressed in the lecture. Also, the higher council has reiterated adoption of the "updated" Gulf plan (2014/2015) for prevention of non-communicable diseases, which was approved at the 76th conference of the council in the State of Kuwait (January 2014), thus proving total commitment of the Council's leaders to protect the Gulf society and confront this pandemic and urging all concerned parties for integration amongst themselves to reduce its health, social and economic effects. 

Director of the Saudi Society for Family and Community Medicine and chairman of the conference, Dr. Saud Al-Hassan explained that many studies revealed that the increasing rate of diabetics in the Council's states have reached record levels, and the rate in the Kingdom is currently estimated between 12-24% and it increases with aging, reaching about 8% in the age group less than 35 years, up to 50.4% in the age group from 65 years and above. He noted that the International Diabetes Federation indicated that the rate of diabetics in the Kingdom will rise from 24% - 50% by the year 2030.  

He said that the Kingdom occupies the fifth place internationally and third place in the Gulf in obesity; statistics show that 36% of the Kingdom population is obese "44% of them are women and 26% are men". The spread of obesity amongst children reached 18% (50% of them are prone to develop diabetes). Demographic statistics in the Kingdom for the year 2012 indicated that 7.5 million Saudis suffer from obesity due to lack of movement, and that 33% of men and 50% of women don't exercise.  

Dr. Saud explained that the committee received 83 researches, 39 of them have been accepted, in addition to 9 scientific posters. The criteria for selection focused on the ones that cover all key points and objectives of the conference. The researches and scientific papers are submitted to the conference by 15 experts and speakers from outside the Kingdom, and 8 experts from the GCC States, in addition to 17 speakers from inside the Kingdom. 

He indicated that the conference is aiming at coming up with recommendations, initiatives and ideas contributing to supporting the national trend of combating obesity and diabetes, consolidating the comprehensive and integrated  healthcare, based on scientific grounds and physical data, in addition to strengthening the central role of the  governmental and national bodies and the civil society organs, as well as setting a roadmap to boost the scientific research and support the advanced methods to address this problem in the Gulf states.   
  
Al-Hassan called for adopting a solid plan balancing between prevention in the first place and then early detection, treatment and follow-up. "This accredited plan must not be limited to the Ministry of Health, but rather involves all concerned authorities in its implementation, including all parties associated with importing and production of food, ministries of education and information, all service and supervision bodies related to environment and municipalities, as well as the legislative, economic and financial authorities", he added.  

He called also to adopting a high-level initiative to establish a gathering on the national and Gulf levels to oversee integrated programs aiming at averting the outbreak of contemporary epidemics and its likes and raising the quality of health for the citizens and residents. 
   
He went on to add that the experience of the Saudi Association for Family and Community Medicine in establishing the National Diabetes Center presents a good model of the cooperation between the governmental and the private sectors in facilitating and accelerating the process of developing performance of the health centers physicians. 
 
 
 



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