Mon. Feb 22nd, 2021
Reaching Turkey’s health policy goals could avert thousands of deaths says research from WHO/Europe

Approximately 20 000 deaths could have been averted in Turkey in 2017 if the country had reached its current goals of reducing tobacco and salt consumption by 30%, and physical inactivity by 10%, according to WHO/Europe experts in an article published in the Lancet. The study calculated possible outcomes of the action plan for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) adopted in the country for 2017–2025.

Turkey: 89% of deaths related to NCDs

The burden of NCDs is rising globally, and the WHO European Region has the highest rates of associated mortality. In Turkey, NCDs account for 89% of all deaths, with nearly 1 in 5 such deaths occurring before the age of 70.

To address the high social and economic costs of NCDs, compounded by an imminent expansion of Turkey’s elderly population, the government introduced the Multisectoral Action Plan of Turkey for Noncommunicable Diseases 2017–2025.

The plan focuses on tobacco, alcohol, diet and physical inactivity as key risk factors for cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, cancers and diabetes – the four conditions responsible for 80% of global NCD deaths.

The Lancet article, written by experts from WHO/Europe, calculated the estimated effect of Turkey’s measures aimed at reducing tobacco and salt consumption by 30%, and physical inactivity by 10%.

The analysis examines figures from 2017 and estimates how many fewer deaths would have occurred, had the targets been met. Analysis of available quality statistics shows that there would have been 20 281 fewer deaths in 2017 alone.

“This evidence-based WHO/Europe approach not only assesses potential effects of Turkey’s action plan for NCDs, it can help us to find the most effective measures and lead to more lives saved every year,” said Dr João Breda, Special Advisor to the WHO Regional Director for Europe, who has been leading the research with the WHO European Office for Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases.

Turkey, in line with other countries of the European Region, strives to reach the Sustainable Development Goal target of reducing NCD mortality by a third, by 2030. WHO/Europe’s European Programme of Work, 2020–2025 – “United Action for Better Health”, highlights the demand for technical guidance on effective NCD interventions in the Region.

Putting priorities in order

The WHO/Europe study placed the most important NCD risks factors for Turkey in order of priority:

  • salt intake
  • physical inactivity
  • tobacco use
  • consumption of fruit and vegetables
  • alcohol consumption.

Population-level reductions in salt intake and physical inactivity present the greatest opportunity for reducing NCD mortality in Turkey. This could avoid over half of preventable deaths.

“Another important conclusion is the need to promote daily fruit and vegetable consumption. Although fruit and vegetable consumption is not a global NCD target, it is still a crucial factor that can reduce attributable health risks and shouldn’t be neglected while planning national policies,” added Dr Breda.

The WHO/Europe research is helpful for other countries searching for best practices to reduce NCD-related deaths. WHO/Europe’s approach to modelling the impact of different risk factor targets can be used to find the right priorities and convert them into nationally tailored policy targets across the Region.

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