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Efforts to advance trans-fat elimination in Kenya

By Peter Ngila
Thursday, December 19th, 2019
Emma Wanyonyi, CEO
In summary

To advocate for effective trans-fat regulations in Kenya, a locally-based organization has been awarded a two-year grant. The International Institute for Legislative Affairs (IILA) joins the second round of grant awardees from LINKS, an online community and resource-sharing platform that connects people working to improve cardiovascular health around the world. LINKS is coordinated by Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies, the World Health Organization (Who), and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through the CDC Foundation.

“Cardiovascular disease causes 13 per cent of deaths in Kenya,” said Emma Wanyonyi, CEO of IILA.  “With this grant, we will be able to address the growing problem of diet-related risk factors, specifically the elimination of trans fat.” 

Trans-fats induced heart attacks and strokes were estimated to cause more than 540,000 deaths a year worldwide. A recent analysis concluded that elimination of trans fats from the global food supply could save 17 million lives over 25 years.

“Cardiovascular disease kills more people each year than all infectious diseases combined, but it remains neglected by many health systems and the global health community,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, President and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives. “LINKS is catalyzing progress and building a global community of champions by supporting programs that target cardiovascular health in low- and middle-income countries, where most of these preventable deaths occur.”

Replacing trans-fat with healthier oils/fats in the food supply is a low-cost way for governments to save the lives of their citizens. Experiences in several countries demonstrate that industrially produced trans-fat can be replaced by healthier oils. Research has proved the direct connection of trans fatty acids with cardiovascular diseases, breast cancer, shortening of pregnancy period, risks of preeclampsia, disorders of nervous system and vision in infants, colon cancer, diabetes, obesity and allergies.

Even though the problem of TFA in Kenya is generally acknowledged, there is limited or no data to understand the level of consumption, sources as well as the policy framework to inform a clear roadmap for elimination of TFA as recommended by WHO’s REPLACE campaign.

“The LINKS grant program will help to identify local solutions to hypertension control and advance control of non-communicable diseases through primary health care,” said Dr. Cherian Varghese, Coordinator of Management of Non-Communicable Diseases at WHO. “The program will also build capacity in health systems, which is critical to advance universal health coverage.”

In Kenya, the urban population is increasingly facing diet related NCDs due to changing lifestyles and unhealthy diets; consumption foods, trans and saturated fats. The situation is aggravated by increasing fast foods coupled with aggressive advertising and marketing of junk foods under insufficient regulatory framework. 

This project seeks to review TFA landscape in Kenya and implement advocacy strategies to enhance effective regulation of TFA. The project’s goal is to advocate for the promotion of use and consumption of healthier fats and oils, the elimination of industrially-produced trans fats, to be achieved through regulatory actions, while establishing solid monitoring systems and creating awareness among policy-makers, producers, suppliers, and the public.

 “The research evidence on TFA sources, consumption, and relationships with NCDs will be vital for the multi-sectoral actions towards elimination of TFAs in our diets and enhance NCD Control programs”, remarked Prof. Yonga, Chair of NCD Alliance East Africa and NCD Research expert.

 “The LINKS grant program will help to identify local solutions to hypertension control and will help in advancing control of non-communicable diseases through primary health care,” said Dr. Cherian Varghese, Coordinator of Management of Non-Communicable Diseases at the World Health Organization. “The program will also lead to capacity building in health systems, which is critical to advance universal health coverage.

The one-time LINKS grants recognize that long-term, sustainable prevention of cardiovascular disease requires commitment and funding from governments.  The grants are intended to help health systems and non-governmental organizations pilot new approaches and scale up successful initiatives, which will over time will reduce health care costs associated with avoidable heart attacks, strokes, and kidney failure.

“To address cardiovascular disease, the CDC Foundation is pleased to work with partners by providing support to countries around the world seeking technical assistance through the LINKS online community and platform,” said Dr. Judy Monroe, president and CEO of the CDC Foundation. “Working together to address the health challenge of cardiovascular disease ensures that knowledge, best practices and lessons learned are shared and utilized across the globe.”

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