People in Tajikistan have a relatively high risk of developing noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancer. The recently published WHO/Europe report “STEPS prevalence of noncommunicable disease risk factors in Tajikistan 2017” reveals the major health risk factors for the country, and how they can be reduced.
NCDs: a preventable threat
NCDs remain the major cause of mortality in the WHO European Region, causing more than 80% of all deaths. Cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases are the most widespread NCDs, undermining health in all Member States.
The good news is that many of these diseases can be prevented by changing everyday behaviours and habits. This is also true in Tajikistan, where NCD risk factors are relatively high.
“According to the report’s findings, thousands of lives can be saved in Tajikistan if tobacco consumption, alcohol use, excessive salt intake, low physical activity, overweight and obesity, and unhealthy diets are addressed,” says Dr Ivo Rakovac, Programme Manager for NCD Surveillance at WHO/Europe.
Tajikistan: main risk factors
The report is based on the results of a household survey on the prevalence of major NCD risk factors, aligned with the WHO-endorsed STEPwise approach to surveillance (STEPS) methodology. The survey was combined with interviews and followed by standardized biological measurements of each respondent.
According to the publication, people in Tajikistan have the following major behavioural risks:
- tobacco use (4.8% of the population smokes and 10.3% uses smokeless tobacco products)
- insufficient consumption of vegetables and fruits (60% of the population)
- high-salt diets (31% of the population always or often adds salt to their food)
- low levels of physical activity (28.3% of the population).
The STEPS report also revealed major gaps in health coverage. For example, every third person in Tajikistan has never had his or her blood pressure measured, and more than 30% of the population has elevated blood pressure – a condition directly linked to many cardiovascular diseases. Results also showed that over three quarters of the population with elevated blood pressure are not receiving treatment.
Men and women in Tajikistan have different health risk patterns that are closely linked to cultural and social factors.
For example, men account for nearly all of the users of tobacco and alcohol products. While women report that they rarely consume tobacco or alcohol, nearly 20% of men use smokeless tobacco products and 30% of men in the 35–69 age group use these products daily. Moreover, 9.4% of men in Tajikistan currently consume alcohol.
Women, however, have lower levels of physical activity. Almost 40% of women are not meeting the WHO-recommended level of health-enhancing physical activity of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, or the equivalent.
Prevention and control measures for a brighter future
In response to the results of the STEPS report, authorities in Tajikistan are implementing actions to prevent and control NCDs. These include developing a country package to reduce salt intake and increase physical activity; identifying best practices to reduce tobacco use; and implementing essential interventions for the management of hypertension and the prevention of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes in primary health care.
These actions are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals and the WHO European Programme of Work 2020–2025 – “United Action for Better Health in Europe”.
The publication of the STEPS report on Tajikistan is a good opportunity to further improve NCD prevention and control measures, especially the cost-effective interventions known as the NCD “best buys”. Without the implementation of such measures in the health systems of the WHO European Region, the overall economic loss of Member States could reach billions of dollars.
“This STEPS survey carried out in Tajikistan is a clear sign that the country is generating and using quality evidence to drive their health policies. The policy dialogue conducted as a part of the STEPS report launch is an excellent example of united action for better health in Tajikistan,” says Dr Nino Berdzuli, Director of the Division of Country Health Programmes at WHO/Europe.
“STEPS surveys can help Member States to determine the major NCD risks and define practices and policies that can effectively reduce levels of mortality, benefit the economy and, in general, make people healthier,” Dr Berdzuli concludes.