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UG Professor lauds MDAs for opening doors to academics to contribute to public policy

Ghana is desirous of developing a food policy bundle to assure healthier diets amidst rising diet-related non-communicable diseases. To do this, the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Thursday September 30 2021, convened a consultative meeting with relevant stakeholders.

The consultative meeting aimed to offer the stakeholders an opportunity to contribute to “the food policy package for healthier diets initiative”. The meeting also received updates from the MEALS4NCDs Project, which is currently generating evidence and supporting public sector actions that create healthy food environments for children and adolescents in Ghana. 

Delivering a speech at the Consultative meeting, Amos Laar, Associate Professor of Public Health, at University of Ghana, and Principal Investigator of the MEALS4NCDs Project, disclosed his satisfaction with the current public policy making processes – citing the very meeting he was participating in as evidence. He also cited other examples such as the development of the National Nutrition Policy, the Food-Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDGs), and the implementation of the United Nations Food Systems Summit Dialogues in Ghana.  Such partnerships between government ministries, departments, and agencies (MDAs) and academics is very much welcome, as Ghana needs evidence-informed policies that can create supportive environments for health – he indicated.

Read the full speech delivered by Professor Amos Laar below:

Representatives of the Honorable Ministers for Health, for Trade and Industry, for Finance, for Gender, Children and Social Protection, Representatives of other Government Ministries, Departments, and Agencies, Member, Parliamentary Select Committee on Health, Hon. Dr. Sebastian Sandaare, representatives of United Nations Agencies present, CSOs, colleagues from academia, our friends from the media, ladies, and gentlemen, Good morning…

If had a reasonable degree of freedom – with respect to time, I would have told you a story about an encounter between an academic and a policy maker…., but I don’t have the luxury of time, and so I will tell you how the encounter ended… 

“… policy makers do not take into consideration the tons of evidence that we churn out every year […]

“… but you do not conduct policy impacting or policy-influencing research …..  you do not engage us when you are planning or conducting your research […]”

The fact that this virtual room is filled with policy makers, and academics, intending to brainstorm on the subject of improving our food environments, is a signal that things have changed or headed in the right direction….

Therefore, I would like to thank the Ministry of Health (MOH), the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA), the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA), the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC) for inviting academics to contribute to public policy making initiatives, such as this one. There are other examples such as the National Nutrition Policy, the Food-Based Dietary Guidelines (FBDGs), and the United Nations Food Systems Summit Dialogues processes.  Such partnership with academics is very much welcome, as Ghana needs evidence-informed policies that can create supportive environments for health – in the current context – food environment policies.

Friends, there are countries that are already doing well in this regard. Ghana needs to join her peers like Spain, Argentina, South Korea, Chile, etc….

For example:

• In Spain – there is a legislation requiring that kindergartens and schools are free from all advertising

• In Argentina, there is a policy mandating maximum levels of sodium in various food products.

• In South Korea, zoning laws are being enforced; in what they refer to as ‘Green Food Zones – where unhealthy foods cannot be promoted, provided or sold’

• Chile, in 2016, did what were are brainstorming today to do. The Chilean government adopted comprehensive food policies through a three-pronged approach of front-of package (FOP) labeling, marketing restrictions and school regulations.

The policies state that foods high in added sugar, saturated fats, calories and added sodium must display a black stop sign on the package and cannot be sold or promoted in schools, …or offered for free within schools or nurseries…

We are told that a strong partnership between government and academia, with a focus on building an evidence base, facilitated Chile’s success.

There are a few examples in Africa: South Africa was the first in the continent to promulgate the Sugar Sweetened Beverage Tax (SSB). Botswana followed suit. Zambia is working on this. Morocco struggled to pass theirs. There is no doubt that such policies are effective, but they are even more effective if they are bundled – like Chili did.

Friends, the essence of policy bundling is made evident by remarks of the Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director General. He notes:

“If we are to win the war against premature deaths caused by NCDs, we must also win the battles in our kitchens, shops, supermarkets, restaurants, schools …. in our churches …

We must make it easier for people to make healthy choices, and harder to make unhealthy choices”.

It’s our view that lone policies will struggle to do this, and that is why we are excited that Ghana has chosen the path of bundling them. Thank you

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