Women can play key role in tackling NCDs
Danial Norjidi

HER Royal Highness Paduka Seri Pengiran Anak Isteri Pengiran Anak Sarah yesterday called for the practice of breastfeeding to be inculcated into the culture of the country yesterday, in line with national efforts to control and prevent the occurrence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Her Royal Highness put forward this point while delivering a sabda at a health seminar on NCDs which took place at the Royal Brunei Polo and Riding Club yesterday, in which she underlined the importance of the role to be played by women in tackling the diseases.

NCDs consist of four major diseases, namely cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and chronic respiratory disease.

“As has been evidenced in post-natal medical studies, we should take advantage of the practice of breastfeeding, for both the mother and her child,” said Her Royal Highness. “The practice of breastfeeding is a blessing from Allah the Almighty that is priceless and should be appreciated and benefited from properly.

“The benefits of this are evident in the way that it has been scientifically proven to help nurture the mental well-being and alertness of babies, including its role in restoring the health of mothers while also preventing NCDs, particularly the risk of obesity among children.”

HRH noted that the risk of obesity is significantly less for children who have been breastfed as opposed to children who grew up on milk formula products.

On this topic of breastfeeding, HRH took the opportunity to draw attention to the findings of the Second Health Status and National Nutrition Survey Report conducted by the Ministry of Health and released in 2012.

“The aforementioned report states that the level of breastfeeding at birth had a rate as high as 98.7 per cent,” she said. “However, this level decreases drastically to only 40 per cent for the rate of exclusive breastfeeding being given to children at three months of age, compared to the other 43 per cent that are given milk formula products at the same age.

“This rate drops further among children who are 12 months old, with a rate of only 37.5 per cent of babies still being breastfed as opposed to 88 per cent who are given milk formula products.

“This trend is disappointing,” said Her Royal Highness. “Therefore, I call for the good practice of exclusive breastfeeding to be inculcated into the cultural life of the community in this country, to control the well-being of mothers and their babies who are the assets and catalysts for national development in the future.”

She suggested that one way to achieve this is by encouraging mothers who have successfully breastfed their babies exclusively to share their experiences.

HRH also recommended that the women’s NGOs lead this initiative by organising the appropriate activities in cooperation with the Ministry of Health.

Citing a study by the World Health Organization, Her Royal Highness highlighted that, in 2008, out of 57 million deaths globally, 36 million or 63 per cent of them were the result of NCDs. From this total, a quarter of the deaths occur prematurely, ie among those who have yet to reach the age of 60 years.

This total, HRH said, is expected to rise to 44 million deaths towards 2020 if effective action is not taken towards tackling the symptoms of the disease.

“Like other countries, Brunei Darussalam also feels the burden of NCDs. Statistics for the rate of non-communicable diseases continues to indicate an increase and a trend that is worrying.

“NCDs have been the number one cause of death in this country for three decades, with cancer as the top cause followed by heart disease, diabetes and stroke,” said HRH. “This trend clearly shows how NCDs affect the country’s health landscape.

“With that, I hope that action that is truly effective can be taken immediately because this has the potential to affect the quality of life, welfare and socio-economic development of this country.

“Achieving this action requires serious attention and commitment from all important parties in a cooperative, effective and compre-hensive manner,” Her Royal Highness added.

She highlighted that a number of studies show how NCDs share a risk factor involving lifestyle practices that include the intake of tobacco; an unhealthy and unbalanced diet; lack of physical activity; and a dangerous level of alcohol intake.

“The key to successfully tackling NCDs is in our hands, especially among us women, by changing habits and practicing a healthy lifestyle, particularly in avoiding risk factors,” HRH said. “This is because women, as we all know, possess and handle many roles in daily life, particularly in the family.

“The role of women as housewives and mothers to children is their natural role,” explained HRH. “In addition, many women are also involved in a number of full or part-time careers, including entrepreneurship in the community of this country.”

It was on this point that Her Royal Highness emphasised, “Thus, as women we possess many opportunities to influence the environment towards creating and empowering healthcare, particularly in practicing a healthy lifestyle and the prevention of NCD risks within the family, in the preparation of food, at the work place and in the production of processed food products.

“Aside from that, we must always remember that NCDs also affect the health of women themselves,” continued Her Royal Highness. “With that, it is important for women to address their own health and take proactive measures so that they are not neglected.”

Pregnant women, she said, should follow the scheduled antenatal screenings to ensure their maternal health and fetal development is fine, as the presence of NCDs can affect the healthy development during both pregnancy and birth.

Her Royal Highness also noted that the Ministry of Health has a programme especially for women’s health that is carried out by the Well Women’s Clinic, as well as the national cervical cancer control and prevention programme.

Both of these programmes focus on women-related disease screening and the prevention of NCDs.

“Therefore, I once again urge all women to take advantage of these services and programmes by presenting themselves to carry out the relevant examinations at their nearest health centres,” HRH said.

“In taking lessons with regards to the great role of women in the family institution and community at the grassroots level, I hope that the women’s NGOs will continue to be directly involved with this, through the cooperation of all other stakeholders, to jointly take responsibility, take positive steps and proactively support and realise the vision of the Ministry of Health – ‘Together Towards Healthy Citizens and Wawasan Negara 2035’,” Her Royal Highness added. - Borneo Bulletin (28 June 2013)