International Health Experts Urge Malawi to Advocate for Public Health at FCTC Forums
Experts are calling for a balance between economic and public health concerns, so that Malawi can continue to benefit from tobacco exports without sacrificing the health of its people.
BLANTYRE, Malawi - International health experts have called upon Malawi's delegates attending the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) forums to leverage their voting power in advocating for health-centric approaches, writes Josephine Chinele.
Last month marked a significant milestone for Malawi as it ratified the World Health Organization's (WHO) FCTC, an achievement that came after years of reluctance, possibly due to its status as one of the world's leading tobacco producers.
The WHO FCTC, developed in response to the global tobacco epidemic, is an evidence-based treaty emphasising the right to the highest standard of health for all. With 182 countries currently party to this treaty, it has swiftly gained recognition as one of the most widely embraced international agreements in United Nations history.
Dr. Kgosi Letlape, a South African-based advocate for harm reduction and a medical doctor, highlighted during a virtual information session on science and harm reduction for African journalists that the FCTC, when initially drafted and adopted, did not incorporate elements of tobacco harm reduction.
He emphasized that Malawian delegates at the FCTC should be vigilant and advocate for public health policies that align with the nation's needs.
"Malawian delegates at the FCTC need to be vigilant and stand up for public health policies they need and would work in Malawi. Many African countries have the tendency to go with the flow, especially on issues brought to the table by the WHO. They rarely question the WHO. Malawi’s ratification is a good move for it to advocate for Tobacco Harm Reduction (THR) strategies that may save its people from nicotine addiction. There are many misconceptions regarding THR but governments need to use scientific evidence and not myths,” said Dr. Kgosi Letlape.
Dr. Clive Bates, Director of Counterfactual, an international consulting and advocacy practice focusing on sustainability and public health, urged tobacco-growing countries like Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe to prioritise public health policies in their decision-making processes.
"Don’t lose sight of the public health agenda,” said Dr. Clive Bates.
While tobacco remains a significant contributor to Malawi's foreign exchange earnings, comprising approximately half of its exports, experts are emphasising the importance of balancing economic policies with public health concerns.