On the 22nd and 23th November MCNV and its partners from the LEARN programme went to Yangon, Myanmar to participate in the 9th International Conference on Public Health among Greater Mekong Sub-regional countries (ICPH-GMS).
This year’s theme was “Adopting Healthy Lifestyle: Combating Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs)”. The conference was attended by the Minister of Health & Sports from the Government of Myanmar, and participants from different countries of the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS).
A variety of speakers at the conference explained that demographics in the world are changing, since the average life expectancy is increasing over time. In relation to this there is an increasing burden of NCDs. NCDs are ‘silent killers’ that develop slowly over time and are caused by many different factors, the most important ones being unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, excessive alcohol use and tobacco use. It was explained that in Europe and America NCDs have been around for a longer period compared to the GMS and the way the problem was approached was not successful. In Europe and America focus was placed on the individual to adopt a healthy life style rather than on a health system approach. At the conference it was argued that this is not a good approach, since there needs to be an enabling system or environment for the individuals to make healthy choices. For example, it might be very hard for an individual to adopt a healthy lifestyle when fast food is cheaper than healthy food. Additionally, Europe focussed on clinical treatment rather than the promotion of a healthy lifestyle. Therefore, the GMS can learn from this and adopt a holistic multi-sectoral approach, which requires involvement of civil society, the government and the private sector to combat NCDs in the GMS.
MCNV contributed to the content of the ICPH-GMS through the LEARN programme in various ways. Firstly, a PhD student supported through the LEARN programme presented his research findings by way of a poster presentation. Secondly, the Dean of the University of Health Sciences in Vientiane, a partner of the LEARN program, joined the Deans’ meeting a day prior to the conference. Additionally, she participated in a panel discussion on ‘Strengthening Health Policy and Systems for NCDs’. Lastly, a meeting between the LEARN programme and its sister programmes in Myanmar and Bangladesh took place during the ICPH-GMS. This was a great opportunity for the programmes to learn from each other’s barriers and success stories by sharing their experiences.
This year’s conference was successfully concluded and was very useful for MCNV and its partners. Next year the conference will be held in Yunnan, China, and the year after, in Lao PDR. So in 2019 MCNV will be supporting its partners to organise the 11th ICPH-GMS, and will enjoy the opportunity to showcase the fruits of its work under the LEARN programme, as well as its other ongoing activities.