Princess Zahra Aga Khan Stresses Importance of Comprehensive Early Childhood Development in the Prevention of Chronic Diseases
Kampala, Uganda, 5-7 February 2009 - The Aga Khan University (AKU), in partnership with the Government of Uganda and with technical support from the World Health Organisation (WHO), hosted a two-day summit on "Preparing Communities: Chronic Diseases in the Developing Regions of Africa and Asia".
Princess Zahra Aga Khan speaking at the summit on Chronic Diseases, held 5-7 February 2009 in Kampala, Uganda. Photo: Zahid Wissanji.Speaking at a breakfast session attended by all delegates, Princess Zahra Aga Khan, daughter of His Highness the Aga Khan and member of the Board of Trustees of AKU, noted that whereas it was evident that the rise in chronic diseases was preventable through multi-sector approaches such as the change of lifestyle and diet, Comprehensive Early Childhood Development had been neglected as a preventative approach and was of paramount importance.
According to research, malnutrition at various stages of pregnancy, and exposure to a suboptimal environment has an effect on the body’s immune system, as well as its susceptibility to illnesses in later life such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases among others.
“This intervention, if undertaken before and during pregnancy, could have a significant impact on the state of health of a child in early years, but also importantly in later life,” she said.
Elaborating further, Princess Zahra stated, “Good and bad habits are formed early in life, and breaking the cycle that leads to chronic diseases before and during pregnancy with some simple and cost-effective educational material and basic teaching on hygiene, nutrition, and healthy lifestyles has a huge and rapid impact.”
Princess Zahra noted that governments should play an important role in setting regulations and creating an enabling environment for the prevention of chronic diseases. “Governments also have a role to play in promoting health-seeking behaviour as well as in discouraging unhealthy choices through education and the dissemination of information,” she said.
She urged governments to take responsibility for mapping incidence and understanding the causes of chronic diseases, as well as in designing a health system to meet future requirements of a chronic disease-prone population.
The Summit drew together some 100 delegates from over 25 countries with 11 countries represented at the ministerial level from Kyrgyzstan, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Thailand, Bangladesh, South Africa and Pakistan. Participants, meeting over two days, also included leaders from academia, civil society, the NGO community and the private sector.
Discussions elaborated on a number of themes, such as the finding that 80 percent of all chronic diseases are preventable for as little as one dollar per person per year. Multi- and inter-sectoral approaches to the problems of chronic diseases was another theme, as were the need for international standard professional training and skill development and knowledge generation and the dissemination of research.
The delegates resolved to implement the WHO Global Non Communicable Diseases (NCD) Action Plan. Consistent with Objective No. 5 of the Plan, they also resolved “to promote partnerships for the prevention and control of non communicable diseases” through the creation of a platform for a multi-sectoral alliance in Asia and Africa.
They also agreed to share resources, expertise and experiences to promote an integrated and evidence-based approach to reducing the health and economic burdens of chronic diseases.
Furthermore, the delegates agreed that governments and multi-sectoral partners at all levels will provide the leadership vital to refine and advance the directions developed during the Summit.
“Collaborative efforts and alliances such as the one we have initiated today are an essential component to developing a global strategy to eradicating chronic diseases," said Firoz Rasul, President of AKU, at the close of the Summit. "AKU looks forward to continuing to support this alliance through research, and building capacity through education of health professionals and facilitating further conversations.”
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Chartered in 1983, the Aga Khan University is Pakistan’s first private, autonomous university. Its charter calls upon it to serve the Muslim Ummah and developing countries. The University is recognised for research, teaching and service of an international standard in medicine, nursing, teacher education, medical care and community service. The University has campuses and programmes in eight countries in South Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa. The campuses encompass Faculties of Health Sciences -- a Nursing School, Medical College and teaching hospitals -- in Karachi and Nairobi, Institutes for Educational Development in Karachi and Dar es Salaam, an Examination Board and an Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations. AKU is a non-denominational institution open to all, irrespective of religion, ethnicity, gender, national origin or financial standing.
His Highness the Aga Khan is the founder and Chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), a group of private, non-denominational development agencies working to empower communities and individuals to improve living conditions and opportunities, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, Central and South Asia, and the Middle East. The Network’s nine development agencies focus on social, cultural and economic development for all citizens, regardless of gender, origin or religion. The AKDN’s underlying ethic is compassion for the vulnerable in society. Its annual budget for development activities is in excess of US$ 350 million. A direct descendant of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), the Aga Khan has emphasised the view of Islam as a thinking, spiritual faith, one that teaches compassion and tolerance and that upholds the dignity of man.