Policymakers, civil society and media from across the South East Asia region attended a multi-day course in Kathmandu, Nepal, designed to equip leaders for tobacco control. The Union Singapore office organised the course in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University, USA; Nepal’s Ministry of Health (MOH) and Action Nepal. The South Asia Tobacco Control Leadership Programme ran from 8 to 13 May.
Attendees from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka included members of parliament, senior government officials, media, civil society and professional organisations. The course’s 75 participants received training to strengthen leadership skills, boost evidence-based policy implementation, and communication to advance tobacco control. Building relationships and partnerships to improve public health programmes at country and regional levels was also a central aim of the programme.
Tobacco use is a serious public health concern across the region, which includes countries with some of the world’s highest levels of tobacco use. All countries represented on the course are Parties to the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) – as such they are obliged to advance tobacco control as set out in the treaty. But progress varies widely.
‘Nepal was chosen to host the course because it’s a regional leader for advancing public health. It has become a model for other nations,’ said Tara Singh Bam, The Union’s Deputy Regional Director for Asia Pacific. ‘Nepal is a small, developing country, but its leaders have prioritised public health. It’s an inspirational backdrop for training leaders in tobacco control. Political commitment, strong policy development and comprehensive implementation of measures to reduce tobacco use are the keys to Nepal’s success.’
In 2015 Nepal was presented with the Bloomberg Award for Global Tobacco Control in recognition of its new law on graphic health warnings for tobacco packaging. Covering 90 percent of the surface area of tobacco packs, it has the largest warning labels in the world.
During the opening ceremony, Nepal’s Minister of Health, Honourable Gagan Kumar Thapa, announced that next year the legal age for purchasing tobacco products will be raised to 21, and plain tobacco packaging will be introduced. He committed to creating a tobacco-free generation by 2030. The minister urged regional collaboration and commitment to advancing tobacco control. Amjad Hussain B Sial, Secretary General of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation [SAARC] and Dr Jos Vandelaer, the World Health Organization’s Representative to Nepal were also present.
‘Tobacco is not only a country-level problem. It is a regional and global problem, and needs to be tackled as such,’ said Sial, SAARC Director General. ‘It needs to be addressed collaboratively through implementation of evidence-based strategies. The most powerful of these is increasing tobacco tax.’
The Nepali government demonstrated its political commitment to tobacco control throughout the week-long course, despite being in the midst of local elections. Members of parliament were keynote speakers in several sessions, including: the Minister of Agriculture, Honourable Gauri Shankar Chaudhary; Secretary of Education, Shanta Bahadur Shresta; former Minister of Health, Honourable Khagraj Adhikari. The Secretary of Land Reform, Krishna P Devkota and the Director General, Department of Health Services, MOH, Dr Rajendra P Pant attended the closing ceremony.