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Health advocates laud Bataan mayor’s anti-smoking stance


If they could, some health advocates here and abroad would like to clone Joet Garcia.

And why would they want to make a double of the young mayor of Balanga, Bataan?

During last week’s “Healthy People, Wealthy Nation” international forum at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Manila, Garcia seemed like a rock star as health advocates, including Thai ex-senator Dr. Prakit Vathesatogkit, lauded him for his campaign against "BBC"—beer, bars, and cigarettes—in his city.

The forum was organized by HealthJustice Philippines together with the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Department of Health (DOH).

Cigarette smoking has been banned in Balanga, a city of around 91,000 people, since 2008, long before the law against smoking in public places began to be strictly enforced in Metro Manila in 2011.

In July last year, Balanga became the first city in the country to launch DOH's healthy lifestyle campaign, Pilipinas Go4Health.

The program promotes increased physical activity (“Go Sigla”), proper nutrition (“Go Sustansiya”), the cessation of smoking (“Go Smoke-Free”) and reduced alcohol consumption (“Go Slow sa Tagay”).

In his presentation during the “Healthy People, Wealthy Nation” forum, Garcia said Balanga's city government uses social media sites to discourage people from smoking or going to beerhouses.

It also gathered the city’s young talents to produce a musical mini-series to promote its no-smoking policy.

Over 1,600 'Garcias' needed

In an interview with GMA News Online, lawyer Ipat Luna, senior legal adviser of Health Justice, said every town and city in the country needs a Garcia clone.

Luna said Garcia’s active promotion of a healthy lifestyle should be replicated in over 1,600 Philippine cities and municipalities.

However, Luna noted that Garcia’s approach to health promotion is suitable only on the local government level.

On the national level, she said, the country needs sustainable funding and appropriate laws to curb the rise of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart ailments, lung diseases, or diabetes.

During the “Healthy People, Wealthy Nation” briefing for the media, Luna said they are seeking a budget of P1 billion for health promotion. She noted that this is much lower than Thailand’s budget for the same of US$130 million.

Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, project director of the Southeast Asia Initiative on Tobacco Tax at SEATCA, noted that it would also be lower than PhilHealth’s current P5-billion budget for the treatment of diseases.

Main health issues

Prakit noted that NCDs have four common risk factors: smoking, alcohol, poor diet, and inadequate exercise.

Prakit said these four account for 80 percent of all NCDs.

According to Health Justice, NCDs are responsible for 36 million deaths out of the 58 million in 2008, as recorded by the WHO.

The health advocates also urged governments to focus not just on sick people but healthy people as well by helping them avoid getting sick.

“In the Philippines, an alarming 85,700 die of cancer every year, 57,864 of heart disease, 18,512 of diabetes, and 13,473 of lung disease, accounting for 61% of reported deaths nationwide,” Health Justice said in a statement.

Leading causes of death in PHL

According to Health Justice, the top 10 leading causes of death in the Philippines are: heart disease, vascular disease, malignant neoplasm, pneumonia, accidents, tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, perinatal period conditions, and nephritis.

Health Justice said five actions would help improve the health situation in the country: controlling tobacco use, reducing the consumption of alcohol, promoting healthy diet, encouraging more physical activity, and ensuring road safety.

The group said healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables should be promoted because about 24.6 percent of Filipino men and 28.4 percent of Filipino women are overweight.

The government should also ensure safe environments for physical activity through urban planning and environmental policies, the group said. — BM/KG, GMA News

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