The CEO of the South African Heart and Stroke
Foundation SA (HSF), Dr Vash Mungal-Singh, will be taking the fight against
preventable heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and other non-communicable
diseases (NCDs) in the developing world to the global stage following her
appointment to two prestigious global health bodies.
Mungal-Singh was recently elected
Vice-President of the World Heart Federation (WHF) and has also been appointed
to one of the NCD Global Co-ordinating Mechanism working committees of the
World Health Organisation (WHO). She says that this is an exciting time to be
working in the field of (NCDs).
“There is a lot of momentum around the globe
regarding the treatment and prevention of diseases like cardiovascular disease,
cancer, diabetes, and chronic lung diseases. This means that there is
opportunity to achieve so much right now,” she says.
Read: SA eats too much, drinks too much and doesn't move enough
Ambitious targets for reducing non-communicable diseases
Both the United Nations and the World Health
Organisation have set ambitious targets for reducing NCDs – and aim to achieve
a 25% reduction in premature mortality from non-communicable diseases by 2025.
The WHO says that NCDs are the leading cause of death in the world, with the
four main NCDs – cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic lung diseases and
diabetes, being the cause of death of three in every five people worldwide.
In South Africa, apart from the added health
burden of TB and HIV, the country also has the highest
overweight and obesity rate in sub-Saharan Africa, with up to 70% of women and
a third of men being classified as overweight or obese.
Mungal-Singh says: “People need
to concede that our lifestyles are unhealthy. If we want to avoid ill-health or
death at a young age we have to change the way we live; we need to eat less and
more healthily, stop smoking, drink less alcohol and exercise more.”
She has been a passionate
advocate for a healthier lifestyle throughout her career, first as a medical
doctor, then as a haematologist. She joined the HSF as CEO in 2010, and has been
instrumental in repositioning the organisation to achieve greater impact.
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New roles an extension of current work
Mungal-Singh sees her role with the WHF and
WHO as an extension of the work she has been doing for the HSF and in South
Africa. As part of the WHO working committee she will represent Africa in
developing global strategies around how governments can collaborate with the
private sector in order to achieve NCD targets set out by the WHO. In this she
has extensive experience locally. Along with the Department of Health and the
Chronic Diseases Initiative in Africa (CDIA), the HSF played a significant part
in advising government on its ground-breaking salt regulation policy, which
will see food manufacturers reducing salt content in their products.
As Vice-President of the WHF, she will also
continue to work on global advocacy, strengthening networks and building
relationships, all towards the objective of reducing cardiovascular disease and
creating awareness about NCDs.
“One of the focus areas of both the WHO and
the WHF is the lower income group countries as there are high incidences of
non-communicable diseases,” she says.
While her new positions will involve some
travelling, much of the work will involve co-ordination and communication.
“Yes, there will be more work but I don’t see
it like that. For me it is about working together more closely, getting to know
more people and strengthening the ties that already exist to ensure that we
take another step towards winning the war on non-communicable diseases and cut
the number of preventable deaths and disability around the world - especially
in Africa and South Africa,” she says.
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