By Christopher Thomas
Rabat – Yesterday, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a new initiative to combat Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) in Morocco.
Qualified experts in teams of four will range the streets of Rabat and approach households to ascertain potential signs of NCDs. They will then expand beyond Rabat to encompass the entire country as part of a mission for a new WHO project to improve data on health hazards in Morocco and worldwide.
Data for Health, an initiative already backed by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Australian government, has partnered with WHO among other governments and NGOs. Their goal is to diminish the information gap on worldwide causes of death. Currently, about half of all global deaths go unreported. This daunting figure prevents health organizations from understanding the greatest causes of death, which significantly hinders knowledge concerning the greatest threats to human life. While heart and lung diseases, diabetes, and cancer are prime suspects, without more information researchers cannot be certain.
Data for Health will help WHO conduct house-to-house surveys using their STEPS approach. This interpersonal survey method uses electronic databases to streamline previous data collection efforts, and provide a basic standard of information upon which to build. They will begin collecting in Morocco and Zambia, then expand to four other currently undetermined countries.
The Moroccan Ministry of Health strongly supports this mission as well. Dr. Hicham El Berri, head of that ministry’s NCDs Division, told the WHO that “this is an important moment for Morocco. We lack NCDs data and STEPS is a tried and tested system. To have WHO and the Data for Health initiative help us establish a system to collect NCDs data from households will be very useful and important for NCDs prevention and control in Morocco.”
The initiative will begin its work in October this year, with fourteen teams of four visiting over 6000 households around the nation. Data will be collected via surveys and electronic questionnaires, asking adults aged 18 and over on topics concerning “tobacco use, alcohol consumption, physical activity, fruit and vegetable consumption, weight and height, waist circumference, blood pressure, cholesterol, and fasting blood sugar,” according to their website.
WHO’s NCD Surveillance team head Leanne Riley is confident in the project’s goals and importance. “Knowing how widespread are the risk factors that threaten people’s health is essential for governments to develop policies and make the case for resources to curb these risks endangering people’s health,” she told WHO in a press release. “Thanks to Data for Health, WHO is able to roll out the STEPS surveillance system in even more countries, which will provide decision-makers with real, actionable data to use to improve health.”
She also expects this initiative to help Morocco’s government learn how to collect data on NCDs, and improve the nation’s efforts to meet the international Sustainable Development Goals. Riley believes that this project will support the wider initiative carried out by Health Data Collaborative, a coalition of over 30 global health organizations seeking to improve individual countries’ health information systems and improve health conditions worldwide.