Director-General's Office

Launch of Oman National NCD Action Plan

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Director-General of the World Health Organization

Muscat, Oman
11 February 2018

Your Excellency Dr Ahmed Al Saidi, Minister of Health;

Dr Akjemal Magtymova, WHO Representative for Oman;

Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great privilege to be with you for this important occasion.

It’s so encouraging to be in Oman both for the launch yesterday of the WHO-Oman Country Cooperation Strategy, and today for the launch of the National NCD Action Plan.

Of course, these two documents are closely connected. Taking action against noncommunicable diseases, including mental health and substance abuse, is one of the five strategic areas of cooperation between WHO and Oman.

Like many countries, Oman has witnessed a dramatic transition in the burden of disease. Noncommunicable diseases are now the leading cause of premature death in this country.

You are aware of the challenges you face.

More than half of all Omanis are now overweight or obese.

One in 4 Omani adults have high blood pressure.

The prevalence of diabetes has increased by almost 50% since 1991.

This is not only devastating from a human point of view. It also has a devastating economic impact, both in terms of the costs of treating people with long-term illnesses, and in terms of lost productivity.

Let’s call this what it is: a crisis.

Of course, you are not alone. It is a global crisis.

Noncommunicable diseases account for 7 of the top 10 causes of death globally, and are responsible for 70% of all deaths worldwide.

Every year, NCDs kill 15 million people in the prime of life, between the ages of 30 and 70.

The tragedy is that much of this suffering is totally preventable. And we know what the answers are.

Stop tobacco use.

Reduce salt intake.

Consume less sugar.

Eliminate industrial trans-fats.

Treat more people for high blood pressure.

It’s easy to say. It’s harder to do.

It takes a clear vision, a bold plan and strong determination.

That’s exactly what this National Action Plan is.

It maps a clear path for decreasing the use of harmful products, increasing physical activity, and improving diets.

It emphasizes that beating NCDs is not a job for the health sector alone. It will take a coordinated effort on the part of all sectors of government, as well as the private sector and civil society.

And it recognizes that we cannot simply treat our way out of this crisis. It puts health promotion and disease prevention at the centre.

Ultimately, no country can afford to sit back and treat the tide of patients who will show up in their hospitals.

We must turn off the tap, rather than try to mop up a flood.

The nations of the world have agreed to take action against NCDs, by reducing premature deaths by one-third by 2030, as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. The SDGs give us the political mandate.

But progress is too slow. The clock is ticking. At our current pace we will not achieve the SDG target.

That’s why in the past seven months I have taken several steps towards accelerating progress on NCDs globally.

Importantly, we have made NCDs one of five key platforms in WHO’s new General Programme of Work, as part of our ambitious target to see 1 billion more people enjoying better health and well-being by 2023.

To help us achieve that target, last year I established an independent High-Level Commission on Noncommunicable Diseases to propose bold and practical ways to accelerate progress in tackling NCDs.

The Commission, which includes 3 Presidents, 9 Ministers and other distinguished philanthropists, activists and academics, is now beginning its work, and I am looking forward to receiving their recommendations in June.

Last year we also signed the Montevideo Roadmap, which calls for renewed political action, increased investment and multisectoral partnership.

This year’s 3rd High-level Meeting on NCDs and mental health at the United Nations in New York will be a litmus test for countries, WHO and the broader UN system.

I am inviting Heads of State and Government to attend the High-level Meeting. And I am counting on Oman to be in New York this year to share their success with the entire world.

And we have taken steps to deepen our partnership with civil society. We have established a working group to mobilize all civil society organizations working on NCDs globally, to ensure that their voices are heard in New York, and to make best use of their grass-roots networks.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We face a daunting challenge. But you have 3 key ingredients that make me confident you will succeed.

The first is political will. I know from my own experience that the best plans can go nowhere without support from the highest levels.

But with strong political commitment, you can achieve great progress, very quickly.

That’s why I am so encouraged that this plan enjoys that kind of support here in Oman.

The second is a strong health system that is delivering universal health coverage, based on the foundation of primary care.

Ensuring access to medicines and other health technologies is very important.

But the most powerful weapon in your fight against NCDs is your people. By informing and mobilizing civil society and the private sector, and empowering all women and men to take charge of their own health, you will help to keep them out of hospital and in the community.

The third is that you are not starting from scratch. You are building on success.

You have introduced a 50% tax on sugary drinks. You are raising your tax on tobacco by another 20%. And you have achieved a 30% reduction in the use of salt in bread.

The recent launch of the Healthy Island Initiative demonstrates your commitment to delivering health services in an integrated way.

I’m proud that WHO and the UN Task Force on NCDs have supported you in these efforts, and we stand ready to support you in this next phase of your journey.

Let me finish by telling you a story about a man I met in Thailand a couple of weeks ago.

He’s a poor man with kidney problems. At one point he was bedridden and unable to work. But now he receives regular dialysis, and he’s back at work.

We met him and his daughter, who takes care of him. I asked them one question: who is covering your expenses? They said, “The government.”

I asked them, “And if the government didn’t cover this, what would have happened?” The daughter said, “I would have waited for my father to die.”

That is the power of universal health coverage.

It is the power not only to protect and promote health, but to create jobs and drive economic growth.

It is the power to build a healthier, safer and fairer world.

Oman’s National NCD Action Plan will help to do exactly that.

You have all the ingredients for success. I urge you to ensure that this document does not remain just a plan, but becomes a reality in the lives of all Omanis.

Thank you so much. Shukraan jazeelan.