Research to assist Govt. combat lifestyle diseases

The World Bank has stepped in to assist Samoa address the country's growing non-communicable diseases (N.C.D.) or lifestyle diseases crisis.

The multilateral financial institution has offered to fund research, which would enable the collection of data to assist the Samoa Government improve in its formulation of taxation policy on tobacco and alcohol consumption and unhealthy diet, as a response to the health crisis. 

The study will be undertaken from July 2019 to June 2020, according to a public notice, which advised of a vacancy for a research assistant to become part of the research project. 

The public notice then gave background on the disease in Samoa, stating that non-communicable diseases are a major threat to public health and public finances in Samoa with diabetes, heart disease, and strokes now accounting for almost half of all deaths. 

Samoa has one of the highest obesity rates in the Pacific at 54 per cent, and obesity rates among Samoan women are 66 per cent. The World Health Organisation has noted that rates of obesity have in fact increased in Samoa over the last decade. 

“Unhealthy diets (for example, sweetened beverages, trans-fats, and sodium) are the greatest risk factor for cardiovascular diseases and diabetes-induced deaths. 

“As part of its response to these concerns, the Government has introduced an excise tax of 8 per cent on a range of products with high sugar or salt content, including syrups, confectionary, biscuits, and instant noodles," the public notice stated. 

The notice further stated that the Samoa Government has also increased excise tax on tobacco and alcohol (by 5 per cent and 6.5 per cent respectively in 2017, and by an additional 5 per cent and 3 per cent respectively last year. 

“The increase in excise taxes is expected to lead to price increase in these products, with the aim to promote healthy consumption choices while boosting an important source of domestic revenue.” 

Furthermore, the notice stated that global evidence and regional work by the World Bank has shown that the use of prices to disincentivize consumption of alcohol, tobacco, and sugary and salty products is one of the top priorities in terms of addressing the burgeoning N.C.D. epidemic.

“Given the new taxation policy initiative to address N.C.D. and overnutrition, a mechanism needs to be established to monitor the effects of these excises on prices, imports, and consumption. 

“This is in line with the fifth priority highlighted in the 2014 N.C.D. Roadmap Report for the Pacific, to strengthen the evidence base to ensure that interventions work as intended. 

“This will allow policymakers in Samoa to be better informed about the effect of these taxes and provide a more solid evidence base on which to make further adjustments, depending on government objectives," the public notice further stated. 

It is understood the involvement of the World Bank comes as part of its Pacific Possible programme that focuses on the long-term economic growth perspectives of Pacific Island countries. A number of what the Bank describes as "major transformational economic opportunities and challenges" will come under its radar. They include tourism, labour mobility, ICT, oceanic tuna fisheries, deep sea minerals, climate change and natural disasters and N.C.D. 

Comment has been sought from the World Bank. 

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