Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are a serious and growing problem in Bhutan. It is perhaps the biggest killer in the country.

The endorsement of the implementation roadmap for the prevention and control of NCDs in the region 2022–2030 by the member countries of the on-going 75th session of the regional committee meeting of WHO South-East Asia Region (SEAR) in Paro is thus a significant milestone.

The roadmap 2022–2030 provides strategic directions to speed up the national NCD response through primary healthcare and universal health coverage to improve access, coverage and quality of NCD prevention and control interventions.

Regional Director, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, said that the region must build on the progress made thus far in the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases. “Though trends are in the right direction, we need to accelerate efforts to achieve global, regional, and national goals.

This is the reality that the member countries must face boldly. Non-communicable diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes account for almost two-thirds of all deaths in the region according to the WHO.

We hear doctors pleading not to overlook the dangers of NCDs, both in terms of human suffering and referral costs. Our lifestyles have changed dramatically over the years.

What the records from the region tell us is that nearly half of these deaths occur prematurely between the ages of 30 and 69 years. We also know that oral diseases are among the most common NCDs in the region with cases of untreated dental caries, severe periodontal diseases and edentulism.

The region has the highest oral cancer incidences and mortality rates among all WHO regions. The main issue is that most of these diseases can be prevented. That’s why the endorsement of the implementation roadmap for the prevention and control of NCDs in the region 2022–2030 is significant.

The resolution calls for strengthening policy and legislative frameworks, as well as advancing primary health care, universal health coverage, human resources, accountability and quality of national health information systems, and the crucial role of data and information systems at all levels to promote accountability.

We must achieve these goals as early as possible.

As Dr Singh said: “Decisive leadership and political commitment can provide the policy and legislative frameworks needed to integrate high-quality, comprehensive” programmes.