WHO/Nathalie Germain Julskov
Uzbekistan is taking important steps towards the prevention of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) with technical guidance and support from WHO. Recently, the country adopted a series of important measures that can significantly improve food safety and the quality of nutrition, reducing many health risk factors for the population.
Healthier diets as national policy
NCDs such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases, which are closely associated with risk factors such as tobacco and alcohol consumption, unhealthy diets and physical inactivity, remain an urgent public health challenge in Uzbekistan. NCDs are responsible for approximately 79% of all deaths in the country, and cardiovascular diseases are the main cause of premature mortality.
“About a third of the adult population in the country has hypertension, and a fifth is at high risk of having a heart attack or stroke,” stated Dr Lianne Kuppens, WHO Representative to Uzbekistan. “Furthermore, over a quarter of men smoke tobacco and approximately half the adult population is overweight or obese.”
To reverse this worrying trend, in early 2020, Uzbekistan’s Ministry of health with support from the Presidential Administration began to work on regulations that would make food healthier for all people in the country. In November, the new approach was adopted in the form of a presidential resolution, making healthier diets an important part of national policy.
Boosted by WHO expertise
In preparing this new approach, the Government of Uzbekistan collaborated with multiple stakeholders. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and WHO country offices in Uzbekistan were invited as members of the working group and steering committee. The WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of NCDs and WHO/Europe’s food safety programme provided technical expertise for the revision of the draft legislative package.
The newly adopted presidential resolution launched a nationwide nutrition policy based on the best evidence-based practices, including:
- the full fortification of flour to enrich it with micronutrients;
- free-of-charge provision of micronutrients, vitamins and anthelmintic medications to children and women to support healthy pregnancy and maternity;
- the introduction of colour labelling for ready-to-eat food products on a voluntary basis from 1 July 2021 and on an obligatory basis from 2025; and
- the gradual elimination of trans fats with the introduction of new sanitary and epidemiological norms and standards.
Uzbekistan’s firm resolve to tackle NCDs and leave no one behind in ensuring better health and well-being reflects the country’s commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals and the WHO European Programme of Work for 2020–2025, “United Action for Better health in Europe”.
Further steps for better health
The confirmation of the new policy was on the agenda of the international online conference “Improvement of the support system of the population with safe food products”, held on 30 November 2020. The event gathered international experts from UNICEF, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and WHO to discuss the current and proposed reforms to the food safety system in Uzbekistan, as well as more general policies to promote healthy nutrition and food safety.
“The introduction and implementation of these policies are very important achievements for healthy nutrition and lifestyles in Uzbekistan,” said Dr João Breda, Special Adviser to the WHO Regional Director for Europe. “The country has our full support for upcoming steps, and we look forward to continuing our collaboration.”
The conference was organized jointly by the Senate of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. A new draft law on food safety in Uzbekistan was presented at the conference, and will be further discussed with FAO, UNICEF and WHO to align it with international standards.