The government has increased funding for programmes to raise awareness about harmful products such as cigarettes, energy drinks and sugary drinks.
Hassan Mohamed, the deputy director of the health protection agency, announced at a ceremony held Tuesday that MVR21 million (US$1.3 million) would be spent for 30 different campaigns in 2019.
At present, only one percent of the annual health budget is allocated for health promotion and awareness, a sum less than MVR1 million.
Increasing the budget was a target of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s first 100-day agenda.
At Tuesday’s ceremony, Vice President Faisal Naseem handed letters of appointment to members of the Health Promotion Awareness Board, a new body tasked with providing recommendations and technical advice for conducting health awareness programmes.
In his remarks, Naseem pledged to stop drinking energy drinks and urged the public to follow scientific advice. The cost of providing medical care for diseases related to unhealthy life choices is very high, he noted.
According to a presentation at the event, 84 percent of deaths in the country is caused by non-communicable diseases.
Out of 1,300 deaths in 2016, 36 percent was caused by cardiovascular diseases, 17 percent from cancers and nine percent from chronic respiratory diseases.
On average, 460 million cigarettes are imported every year and MVR1.6 billion is spent on cigarettes. This accounts for about 23 packs of cigarettes per smoker every month.
An estimated 35 percent of men and three percent of women are smokers in Maldives whilst 42 percent of women and 32 percent of men are overweight. Some 88 percent of women and 59 percent men do not get enough exercise.
There are over 40 brands of energy drinks in the Maldivian market. Energy drinks worth more than MVR80 million were imported in the past seven months.
By 2025, the government aims to reduce premature mortality from NCDs by 25 percent, tobacco use by 30 percent and physical inactivity by 10 percent.
Under the programme, healthy lifestyle awareness programs will be piloted in schools. Selling loose or single cigarettes would be stopped and warning labels on cigarette packs would be changed.
In early 2017, as parliament considered import duty hikes for cigarettes, Health Protection Agency officials told lawmakers that that raising tariffs alone is ineffective without a multi-pronged approach to help smokers quit and discourage others from picking up the addictive habit.