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"Embracing walking, cycling as non-motorised means of transport will improve health by reducing Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Ghana" - MoH, WHO advises public

The Ministry of Health (MoH) and World Health Organization (WHO) has advised the general public to embrace walking and cycling as integral components of urban landscape and non-motorized means of transportation which will improve economic prosperity, environmental sustainability and health by reducing Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Ghana.


These remarks were made at a two (2) day country workshop to disseminate World Health Organization's (WHO) Health and Economic Assessment Tool (HEAT) report held in Accra on Thursday.


Delivering a speech on behalf of the Chief Director of Ministry of Health, Dr. Hafiz Adam; Director, Technical Coordination, Ministry of Health, Dr. Baffour Awuah said "The Heat Assessment in Ghana provides an opportunity to develop additional policies and innovations that enhance road safety and prioritize access for pedestrians and cyclists to safe, comfortable and fair infrastructure for walking and cycling"


He added that facilitating access to reliable and affordable public transport has shown to decrease reliance on personal motorized vehicles, leading to improved health, community well-being, and overall quality of life.


"Given Ghana's rising burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and the importance of promoting physical activity for overall health and well-being, a HEAT Assessment could provide valuable insights into the potential cost savings and health benefits of prioritizing investments in walking and cycling infrastructure"


Dr. Awuah affirmed the Ministry of Health's commitment to implementing a multifaceted approach to combat non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including the development of a comprehensive NCD Policy and Strategy.


"Alongside legislative measures such as the Public Health Act, which target major risk factors such as tobacco, alcohol, unhealthy diets, and physical inactivity, aiming to reduce incidence of heart diseases, stroke, diabetes, hypertension, obesity and cancer while promoting healthy lifestyles"


"Although, we have made progress as a nation in coming up with policies and strategies to tackle chronic diseases in the country, we still need to do more considering the increasing trend of these diseases in Ghana, with a goal of reducing the prevalence of physical inactivity by 15% by 2030 in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


On her part, Program Officer, NCDs/Risk Factors/Mental Health, WHO Ghana Country Office, Dr. Joana Ansong said "Rapid economic growth and unplanned urbanization have contributed to the increase in the number of motor, vehicles in low-and-middle-income countries (LMICs), with an increased shift from walking and cycling to private motorized vehicles"


She stressed that more than 55%of the world's inhabitants live in urban centers and by 2050, the proportion is expected to grow to 68%, with Asia and Africa seeing a rise of almost 90%.


"Walking and cycling are key means of transportation and leisure, enabling people to engage in regular physical activity daily, but their role and popularity are declining as the use of personalized motor transport has increased as urbanization increases"


"Fast unplanned urbanization in Ghana means a reduction in walking and cycling levels"


She revealed that the current estimated prevalence of physical inactivity of 22% for 2016 tends to increase if no interventions for both, better public and non-motorized transport are put in place.


Taking her turn, Director of Evaluation, Ministry of Roads and High Ways, Wasila Sufyan acknowledged the inadequacy of facilities for vulnerable and hazardous conditions of some sections of the roadways which may pose danger to people.


"The Ministry of Roads and High Ways have implemented a number of strategies to ensure safety and security of the roads for all users.


"Incorporating pedestrian safety facilities in planning, design, construction and maintenance of roads infrastructure"


"We have to ensure that when these facilities are provided, they are not abused"


"We also ensure that there are adequate road signs, marking, traffic calming measures, streetlights and the provision of Non-motorized facilities"


She called on the public to help enforce road safety measures especially on Non-motorized facilities.


Representing the Mayor of Tamale Metropolitan Assembly (TMA), Sule Salifu, Metropolitan Coordinating Director, Tamale Metro Assembly (MCD), Abdulai Mohammed said "It is important to note that, physical activity is not just about staying fit, it is about nourishing our bodies, refreshing our minds, and connecting with our surroundings"


He added that by incorporating exercising in the daily routines of the public, the citizenry can reduce the risk of chronic diseases, boost immune systems and enhance overall quality of life.


"Moreover, active transportation options such as walking and cycling not only benefit our health but also reduce traffic congestion, air pollution and carbon emissions, contributing to a cleaner and greener environment for all.


Touching on Health, Social and Economic Consequences of NCDs in Ghana, Acting Head, Public Health & Health Promotion, Ministry of Health, Dr. Mavis Sakyi revealed that NCDs including heart diseases, stroke, cancer, diabetes and chronic lung diseases are collectively responsible for 74% of all deaths worldwide.


"More than three-quarters of all NCD deaths, and 86% of the 17 million people who died prematurely or before reaching 70years of age, occur in low-and middle-income countries like Ghana"


She hinted that in Ghana, 6 in 10 outpatient attendance in health facilities are due to NCDs.


Madam Sakyi stressed that non-communicable diseases are contributing to 37% deaths in Africa.


She stressed that 56.5% stroke contribute to death among women in a data generated in 2022.


"Type 1 and 2 of diabetes when not treated well can lead to death. Health is becoming the most expensive commodity in the country. Productivity becomes slow because the personnel are hit by NCD"


Consultant in Health Economics, Physical Activity Unit, Department of Health Promotion, World Health Organisation (WHO), Andreia Santos said "Investing in walking and cycling helps to contribute to many SDGs, such as Air pollution (SDG 11), Equity (SDG 10), Physical Activity (SDG 3), Road Safety (SDG 3), Sustainable Transport (SDG 11), Carbon Emissions (SDG 12)"


She hinted that data from 2016 revealed that 28% of adults do not meet recommended levels of physical activity likewise 81% of adolescents facing the same fate.


"Rapid urbanization; 5.5 million inhabitants, 2% annual population growth. Car ownership increased to 12% in the past 5%, mostly second-hand (average 14 years of use) and Public transport; unreliable, expensive and uncomfortable"


Story by: Joshua Kwabena Smith

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