Entebbe, Uganda | THE BLACK EXAMINER | The World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Africa (AFRO), in collaboration with the Secretariat of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), has successfully concluded a four-day Africa regional preparatory meeting for the 10th session of the Conference of Parties (COP 10) to the WHO FCTC and the 3rd Meeting of the Parties to the Protocol to eliminate illicit trade in tobacco products (MOP3).
This meeting united 160 participants from 47 WHO member states in Africa and regional civil society organizations committed to tobacco control. Its goal was to establish regional consensus on key decisions in advance of the two tobacco control conferences, COP 10 and MOP 3, scheduled to take place in Panama City from November 20-25 and 27-30, respectively.
Dr. Jane Aceng Ocero, the Minister of Health in Uganda, emphasized during the opening session that tobacco use significantly contributes to the increased incidence of non-communicable diseases and deaths worldwide. “Each year, over 8 million people die from tobacco use-related diseases, and nearly 1.2 million of them are second-hand smokers.”
The use of tobacco products also results in significant negative externalities, leading to higher direct health costs related to tobacco-related diseases and indirect costs due to the premature loss of life, disability, and productivity losses.
Dr. Jane stated that Uganda has taken significant steps in tobacco control by banning all forms of advertising, promotion, and sponsorship of tobacco products and implementing a ban on smoking in all public places under the Tobacco Control Act 2015. This has been reinforced through multisectoral enforcement, which has led to a reduction in the number of smokers in public places.
The preparatory meeting also reviewed the progress made in implementing tobacco control in Africa. “Building consensus on regional positions on tobacco control and assessing the progress made by WHO Member States in Africa will enable us to accelerate the implementation of our agreement to eliminate illicit trade in tobacco products,” said Dr. Yonas Tegegn Woldemariam, WHO Representative to Uganda.
The adoption of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2003 was a landmark achievement for public health. WHO member states pledged to prioritize public health concerns over economic interests. To date, 183 member states, including 45 from the WHO African region, are parties to the treaty.
The first protocol to the WHO FCTC is the Protocol to eliminate illicit trade in tobacco products, which was adopted by the Conference of Parties in Seoul, Korea, in November 2012. It entered into force on October 1, 2018, after obtaining the necessary 40 ratifications and accessions. As of May 2023, the protocol had 67 Parties and 54 signatories, with 22 Parties from the WHO African Region. The Protocol is still open for ratification by signatories and accession by non-signatories.
There are already visible successes in implementing this convention in the region. The tobacco-free farm initiative implemented in Kenya has led over 4,500 farmers to transition from growing tobacco to alternative livelihoods, including cultivating high-iron beans. In Uganda and Ethiopia, efforts to promote a smoke-free environment at the subnational and multisectoral levels have yielded positive results, as has the increase in tobacco taxes in Gambia.
Dr. Onyango Adelheid, the Director of the UHC-Healthier Populations Cluster at the WHO Regional Office for Africa, expressed concern about continuous interference by the tobacco industry with tobacco control policies. However, he encouraged countries to remain steadfast in their consensus to implement the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control until tobacco no longer poses a threat to humanity. He concluded by stating that WHO will always provide the necessary technical support when needed.
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- Business Aggrey" is a 23-year-old Ugandan journalist and Editor-in-Chief at The Black Examiner newspaper
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