BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The Ministry of Health (MoH) is looking to launch a national health screening programme for cancer and heart disease as part of efforts to detect chronic illness earlier.

Speaking during a dialogue session with members of the Legislative Council (LegCo) on Tuesday, health minister YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Md Isham Hj Jaafar said earlier detection would prevent further complications during treatment.

No further details of the screening programme were disclosed during the closed-door session.

Cardiovascular disease and cancer are the two leading causes of death in Brunei, representing 29 percent and 20 percent of all mortalities in the country respectively.

Dato Dr Hj Md Isham said MoH has made efforts to strengthen health literacy and education among the public, with data showing that Brunei has been able to reduce premature deaths from non-communicable disease from 17% in 2009 to 14% in 2016.

The bulk of the ministry’s spending for the 2018/19 fiscal year is focused on reducing non-communicable disease as well as developing new infrastructure and health centres.

A national study conducted in 2016 found that 20 percent of Bruneian adults are smokers, said the minister, increasing their risk factors for cancer and heart disease.

By 2018, MoH is targeting a 30 per cent relative reduction in tobacco use and aiming for all public places to be smoke-free.

Dato Dr Hj Md Isham. said as of September, there had been 384 offences committed under the Tobacco Control Order in 2018, such as smoking in public spaces and business premises, and underage smoking.

“From this number, 295 compound fines along with 89 mandatory referrals to smoking cessation clinics were issued to individuals and companies that failed to comply with the order,” he added.

In Brunei, smoking is prohibited in virtually all enclosed public places and workplaces, on sidewalks near business premises and within a six-meter radius of public buildings and schools. The government has also ceased issuing licenses to sell or import tobacco, driving a sharp increase in cigarette smuggling.

During the dialogue session, the minister also revealed that a National Committee on the Implementation of International Health Regulations will be formed, in accordance with standards set by the World Health Organization.

The committee is supposed to ensure close coordination between agencies in public health matters, particularly during public health crises and epidemics, and will also help to identify any weaknesses and gaps in the health system.