Ghana is planning to introduce a bundle of food-related health policies to promote healthier diets and curb the rising burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
On Thursday, September 30 2021, the Ministry of Health (MOH) convened a consultative meeting with key stakeholders including government agencies, civil society and academia.
The meeting provided stakeholders a platform to contribute to what the ministry referred to as “a food policy package for healthier diets initiative”. Stakeholders totaling about seventy persons participated in the meeting.
Opening the meeting, Dr. Emmanuel Odame, the Director for Policy, Planning, Monitoring & Evaluation (PPME) at MOH expressed his appreciation to all stakeholders for the commitment shown through their presence to contribute to the day’s agenda.
During his presentation, he reiterated the ministry’s commitment to improving health outcomes for all Ghanaians–through the promulgation of policies, regulations, and legislation.
Citing an example, he mentioned that, in response to the alarming rise in NCDs, the MOH and partners developed the Ghana NCDs policy and accompanying strategy in 2012 aimed at reducing the burden of NCDs to the barest minimum.
He added that a revised version of the policy published in 2021 recognizes interventions including regulating advertisement of unhealthy foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children; limiting the level of trans fats and salt in industrially processed food, as well as food-related health taxes.
He further emphasized the multi-sectoral approach the government has adopted to improve nutrition and health outcomes for the population.
He illustrated this by referencing an inter-ministerial dialogue organized in 2019 which produced a government ‘consensus statement’ that acknowledged the value of improving the Ghanaian food environment to deliver healthy diets and better nutrition, and a call for a paradigm shift that repositions the Ghanaian food system from “feeding’’ to “nourishing’’ the population.
Delivering a speech at the meeting, Amos Laar, Associate Professor of Public Health, at the University of Ghana and Principal investigator for the MEALS4NCDs Project, lauded the idea of bringing together policymakers and academia to engage at the initiation stages of the process towards developing policy bundles for healthier diets for all Ghanaians.
Such meeting of the two actors (policymakers and academia), he noted rarely occurs when planning for policy initiatives hence leading to policymakers not being able to use research evidence generated from academia, and academia not being able to share evidence to enact relevant policies.
This meeting, he noted, was thus a step in the right direction. In providing some examples that Ghana could learn from, he cited lessons from other countries that have already initiated policies and interventions towards promoting healthier food environments like Spain, Argentina, South Korea, and Chile.
“In Spain, there is a legislation requiring that kindergartens and schools are free from all advertisements.
In Argentina, there is a policy mandating maximum levels of sodium which can be present 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’
In Chile, the government adopted comprehensive food policies through a three-pronged approach: front-of package (FOP) labelling, 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 even offered for free within schools or nurseries”.
Also present at the meeting was a member of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Health, Hon. Dr. Sebastian Sandaare, who also delivered a message of solidarity on behalf of the Coalition of Actors for Public health Advocacy (CAPHA).
He indicated that CAPHA acknowledges the increasing morbidity and mortality resulting from NCDs across countries in Africa including Ghana.
Ghana’s NCD’s profile reported by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2018, accounted for 43% of all deaths in the country, he said.
As a coalition, he indicated that they believe most NCDs are preventable, especially diet-related NCDs and can be prevented through promoting healthier diets and improved nutrition among populations.
On behalf of the coalition, Hon. Sandaare expressed their full support and pledged their contribution to see the realization of having a food policy package for healthier diets in Ghana.
Representing the University of Ghana School of Public Health was the Dean, Professor Kwasi Torpey.
He also reiterated the public health problems in Ghana attributed to unhealthy diets – the increasing burden of overweight and obesity, and diseases such as cardiovascular disorders, stroke, and diabetes.
He noted that the cost of inaction towards addressing unhealthy diets and its associated diseases could result in dire consequences for the country if urgent measures are not put in place.
According to Professor Kwasi Torpey, the School of Public Health, as part of their contribution to ensuring a healthy population will continue to train public health practitioners who will be leaders and change agents for health development in Ghana in particular and in the wider African context.
He further indicated the school will continue to work with the MOH and its agencies to contribute to policy development (having previously contributed to the National Nutrition Policy).
He assured participants at the meeting that, the University of the Ghana School of Public Health remains committed to their mission and very much welcomes this initiative by MOH and it partners.
The State Agency in-charge of regulating food and drugs – Ghana Food and Drug Authority (FDA) participated in the meeting Representing Mrs Delese Darko (FDA CEO) was the Deputy Chief Executive Officer in charge of Food Registration, Mr. Roderick Daddy-Adjei.
He noted that the aim of the meeting synergizes with FDA’s efforts to protect the health and safety of the Ghanaian public by ensuring the safety, quality, and efficacy of foods through monitoring of food systems and products among others, and also the enforcement of relevant standards and regulations.
He indicated FDA’s policy efforts towards good nutrition and healthy diets need to be tackled at a multi-sectoral level and by multiple stakeholders given the complexity of the food system.
He applauded the efforts of MOH and its partners and indicated that the FDA is supportive of this policy development initiative and will play a lead role in its development and implementation.
Mrs Mary Mpereh, on behalf of the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC) noted that the drive for policy bundles that have the potential to improve food environments, and healthier diets in Ghana is in the right direction given that NCDs are a threat to Ghana’s social and economic development.
She added that the NDPC remains focused on its mandate to provide a platform for coordinated programs and policies for the betterment of Ghanaians.
The NDPC, she added will contribute fully to the multi-stakeholder technical task team that will be constituted towards the development of a nutrient profiling model for Ghana, a part of the policy bundle initiative.
The Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA), was represented by Ms. Paulina Addy.
During her speech, Mrs. Addy outlined some of MOFA’s efforts towards the realization of healthier diets in Ghana.
For instance, MOFA according to her is playing a lead role in the development of the national Food-based Dietary Guidelines (FBDGs).
The Food-based Dietary guidelines when completed will provide guidance to policymakers, the private sector, and consumers toward choosing healthier diets.
She added that under the Women in Agricultural Development Directorate (WIAD) of MOFA, interventions such as bio-fortification, food fortification, food enrichment, and nutrition education in relation to food production, post-production, and food consumption have led to improved nutrition.
She also mentioned that continued efforts are needed to develop promising and sustainable interventions to achieve optimal diets for all Ghanaians.
On this premise, she said the ministry wholly welcomes the development of policies for healthier diets which will be significant in efforts towards healthier diets for Ghanaians.
Representing Dr. Joanna Ansong, of the World Health Organisation Ghana, Ms. Leveana GYIMAH indicated that the development of a policy package for healthier diets for Ghanaians resonates with the recommendation by WHO for member states to develop country-specific relevant food policies to promote good nutrition outcomes for its citizenry.
She added that resources already developed and published by the WHO, citing the nutrient profile model for the African region, could be an important tool to guide Ghana’s efforts at developing policies especially on the marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages to children.
A senior program specialist with the Global Health Division of Canada International Development Research Center (IDRC), Dr Samuel Oti in his speech called for urgent action to save ourselves and the planet from going extinct because of our own actions leading to unsustainable food systems.
He highlighted Ghana’s good political will to transform its food system as shown by the president’s participation in the UN Food System Summit in September 2021. He further described Ghana as an intellectual giant in food environment research on the continent .
He ended his speech by indicating IDRC’s willingness to support the development and implementation of a transformational food policy package aimed at ensuring that Ghanaians have access to healthier diets and a more sustainable food system.
As part of the meeting, updates were received from previous and ongoing research projects and initiatives such as the Dietary transitions in Ghanaian and/or African Cities Project (DFC/TACLED Project), the Measuring of healthiness of Ghanaian children’s food environments to prevent obesity and Non-Communicable Diseases Project (MEALS4NCDs Prevention Project), the Ghana food-based dietary guidelines Multi-stakeholder technical task team (FBDGs MTTT), and the Ghana Food Composition Data Team.
In addition, presentations on the development of a nutrient profiling model to underpin food and nutrition policies were delivered by resource persons during the meeting.
Participants had the opportunity to contribute to the meeting during several discussion sessions.
In delivering the closing remarks, Dr Odame of the MOH stated that this is the time for all stakeholders to get on board and contribute to what he refers to as “turning technical capacities into political capital” which is critical towards the development of a healthier food policy bundle for Ghana.
Relating to the next steps, he mentions a concept note will be drafted, taking into consideration knowledge and policy gaps, as well as local and international best practices relevant to promoting healthier diets, and shared among stakeholders for their input.