Heart Health

04 June 2015

SA health champion awarded two prestigious new positions

The head of South Africa’s Heart and Stroke Foundation SA has been appointed to two prestigious international positions at the World Health Organisation and World Health Federation.

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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.

Read: Get your blood pressure tested

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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Rheumatic heart disease: the forgotten killer

 

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