Part 1: What we should know about NCD preventive policies and legislations
Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are the leading cause of death in the Pacific region accounting for 60 to 75% of mortalities. The Pacific Community’s (SPC) NCD programme supports member countries and territories to scale-up the prevention and control actions recommended in the Pacific NCD Roadmap, and mobilise a sustained ‘whole of SPC, whole of government and whole of society’ approach to turning the tide on the NCD epidemic in the Pacific.
My name is Amerita Ravuvu, and I work at SPC’s Public Health Division (PHD) as the Non-Communicable Diseases Adviser - Policy and Planning. In April this year, our NCD programme commenced a series of policy webinars with Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs). This series comprises six webinars with the aim to strengthen country capacity in handling policy development processes surrounding NCD related policies.
Why are NCD preventive policies and legislations important?
Legislative and regulatory measures are powerful tools to safeguard and promote the public's health and safety. These tools also play an important role in regulating our national food environments that are now greatly influenced by industrialised food discourses. This globalised discourse of food has influenced our food supplies in the region and has come at the cost of traditional and place-based food production systems and the composition of food. Research evidence gathered in the region is showing that these changes correlate with an increasing availability and affordability of ultra-processed foods and the greater consumption of these. Thus, NCD preventive policies and legislations can play a role in reducing consumption of food and drink products directly linked to obesity, heart disease and diabetes, especially those high in salt, fat, and sugar by improving the food environment, regulating the food supply chain and the nutritional content of food.
Having said that, most PICTs have NCD-related laws and regulations, however the majority need expanding and/or strengthening to keep up with changing environments and needs.
What ongoing work has been done to address this?
We have been supporting the development of the Pacific Legislative Framework (PLF) – a regional framework for legislative measures dealing with each NCD risk factor namely tobacco control, liquor control, health promotion, marketing of breastmilk substitutes, the regulation of salt, sugar and trans-fat in the food supply, and marketing of unhealthy foods including sugary drinks to children. Moreover, this policy webinar series aims to facilitate a diverse conversation on the realities of developing NCD-related policies within PICTs contexts and the factors that continue to hinder its effective implementation. The series will also explore a variety of policy tools and frameworks that can guide countries on how to handle and approach different parts of the policy cycle, in a bite sized format.
Tell us more about these webinars?
On the 9th of April 2021, the first policy zoom webinar training was conducted with more than 20 representatives from eight participating countries and this week we had a second webinar with four PICTs in attendance. The first webinar was a 101 webinar where we discussed the generic policy cycle, the linear logic policy model and the development of policy briefs and how to approach this. This week’s webinar then focused on an overview of policy analysis and tools that countries can use in their policy development work, followed by a session on the role of policy advocacy in policy development. Countries also shared their reflections on a take-home exercise given out in the first webinar that had guiding questions which took them through the policy cycle. The task for countries was to apply these guiding questions to a policy that was under development in their contexts, or which had been developed and endorsed.
What other discussion opportunities does this session provide?
In the first series we were able to cover an overview of the region’s commitments on NCDs and where countries are at in terms of their NCD policy and legislation as monitored through the Pacific MANA mechanism. It also provided an opportunity for an update on the Pacific Ending Childhood Obesity (Pacific ECHO) Network progress that all countries in the region are a member of.
How have the participating PICTs responded to the webinar?
Drawing on the evaluation forms that countries had to complete at the end of each webinar, it has been well received and rated, and I share feedback from Papua New Guinea and Tonga following yesterday’s session:
Vicky Wari, NCD Coordinator from the PNG Department of Health said “Advocacy is important for us to get policy through, and we really need to advocate stakeholders to see why we are coming up with certain policies. One of the things we are experiencing in the country is the challenge of dealing with evidence and evidence as part of advocacy. This is something that is really challenging for us. So, what we are doing is engaging students especially the Public Health students to do research and to provide evidence on policy areas that we are looking at. As long as we have the evidence, we can do good marketing and good advocacy to stakeholders and even at the political level. We had this challenge with pushing through the SSB tax which SPC had helped us with and the setback or the delay was because of the evidence that we need to provide to push through the policy. We are looking around and trying to manoeuvre and see how best we can provide evidence so that decision-makers can take on when we advocate. So, this is one of the important things that we look at in policy development – the provision of evidence is very important. So, thank you for the presentation. It’s really good for us to go back and it empowers us to go back and look at the processes and how we can improve our policy development processes and come in to develop policies – especially around NCDs”.
Karen Fukofuka from Tonga Health Foundation said “Really appreciative of the webinar session this morning. Very informative. Particularly the last session on advocacy. It’s an area that we are really lacking in, and we haven’t done very well, that we really need to put some effort into it. Even though as you’ve said it might take a long time and not to give up, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t do it. It’s really important that we get the message out there to those who could influence and bring about the change. And we really need to improve our advocacy and this session is really helpful for us”.
NCD preventive policies and legislations remain a critical area for PICTs as there are several policy and legislation gaps that require urgent attention to scale up NCD action across the Pacific. The next webinar is scheduled for Thursday, 16th September and it will be a deep dive session into the Policy Development Process.