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Uganda Warned Against Ignoring Harmful Food, Non-Communicable Diseases

Uganda is in the spotlight again for failing to implement policies that would contribute to controlling overweight, obesity and incidents of non-communicable diseases among the citizens. 

Global food health rights groups joined the local civil society to criticize Uganda’s poor regulatory regime as regards food safety, that has attracted law suits over various related issues. 

This comes a week after the first ever UN Food Systems Summit that took place in New York, with the aim of chatting ways of compelling countries, especially the developing world, to enhance efforts towards curbing obesity. 

The summit warned against the increasing consumption of fast foods, foods with high sugar and salt contents, among others. 

The International Development Law Organization IDLO, the World Health Organization and the International Development Research Centre are implementing the Global RECAP Program, to follow up on the debate and ensure countries follow up on their pledges to the people. 

The health rights group, Center for Food and Adequate Living Rights (CEFROHT), is one of the groups that have filed several cases in court over what they call government’s neglect of duty towards its citizens. 

CEFROHT Chief Executive David Kabanda told the East African UN Food Systems Summit RECAP Dialogue that the Ugandan government has intentionally failed to implement its own policies on safe nutrition. 

He cites the many cases the organisation has filed against the government over the presence of certain foods in supermarkets, some of which have been declared unsafe by expert reports. 

Kabanda says when they petitioned court over food containing traces of Glyphosate, a substance said to abet the growth of cancer cells in the body, but despite government passing a law, it has refused to direct the foodstuffs be removed from the market.

The Commissioner for NCD Prevention at the ministry of health, Charles Ayo, admitted that the government has a role to protect people from unsafe food, adding that they have put in place several policies laws and and institutions towards this effort.

These include institutions like the Uganda Bureau of Standards and the National Drug Authority, but admitted there is still a lot to do in ensuring compliance with laws by the food industry, adding that the private sector should help government with information for adequate action to be taken. 

Dr Ayo warned that Ugandans have not yet taken obesity and NCDs as seriously as they should, because in most cases, the effects manifest at a later age in time, when it is too late for the victims.

Samuel Oji Oti, Senior Program Specialist at the International Development Research Centre, said there are initiatives that the countries can put in place to control consumption of industrial sugar especially in alcoholic drinks, carbonated drinks and confectioneries. 

“Having a robust nutrient profiling model in the region will set the pace and a foundation for policy action,” said Dr Oti, based at IDRC’s East and South Africa Office. 

He cited the example of South Africa’s law on the control of sugary products, dubbed the Sugar Law, where each products are charged a 12% tax, hence making them more expensive and less-demanded. 

Oti says that his organisation is ready to help other countries on the continent to develop such laws based on their own domestic dynamics. Similar laws in Uganda that have faced resistance include the anti-smoking regulations that target making the activity expensive. 

However, government has won suits filed by the industry players for the laws to stand. He is however also aware of the strength of the sugar industry in some countries, for them to be able to challenge such a law. 

In Uganda, it is estimated that 30% of the deaths are a result of non-communicable diseases like heart attack, stroke, diabetes and cancers, which are largely attributed to nutritional lifestyles. 

And of these, 80% are said to be between 30 and 70 year olds, according to the Ministry of Health. 

The World Health Organisation’s Technical Officer (Legal) Kate Robertson says Uganda, like any other country has a right to ensure the people have access to safe food. 

But she also says the government has the obligation to ensure there are no barriers that make people fail to access and even afford safe food. 

CEFROHT’s Kabanda said most of the failures in accessin safe food are due to the inability by the populace to put the government to account. 

He says there is need for a strong public litigation sector which will make the government more accountable to the people. 


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