BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and population demographic changes have strongly affected Brunei’s healthcare development needs, the minister of health said.

Data from the Department of Economic Planning and Development showed that NCDs remained the main cause of death in Brunei, where cancer, heart diseases and diabetes accounted for 44 percent of deaths in 2018.

YB Dato Seri Setia Dr Hj Mohd Isham Jaafar said his ministry is committed to achieve the recommended global targets for non-communicable diseases in the next five years.

The targets include halting the rise of obesity and diabetes cases; reducing tobacco consumption by 30 percent and decreasing the rate of those suffering from hypertension by 25 percent.

The minister was speaking during a closed-door meeting with Legislative Council (LegCo) members on Monday as part of the annual discussions on national health issues.

The ministry introduced new measures for the prevention and control of chronic diseases this year, including the National Health Screening Programme for individuals aged 40 years and above aimed at detecting hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol.

YB Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said Brunei’s healthcare system and services need to respond to challenges such as rising healthcare costs and high public demand for quality services.

Out of the $386.8 million budget tabled for the ministry’s 2019/2020 fiscal year, $14.6 million had been allocated for medical supplies and services and $10.8 million for the maintenance of assets.

He added, “In addition, public health issues arising from the threat of infectious diseases as well as other important issues related to food safety and environmental health also need proper attention”.

The minister updated the LegCo members on the progress of health initiatives, which included the launch of its Strategic Plan 2019-2023 in September. The strategic plan aimed to strengthen the healthcare system and services through the provision of quality and accessible services in line with universal health coverage.

The five-year strategic plan outlines the government’s public health priorities, including reducing the mortality rate for NCDs from its 2017 level of 14.3 percent per 100,000 people to 10 percent by 2023.

As part of the plan, the ministry will also develop national health screening guidelines on NCDs and establish new registries for cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke and renal disease.

The national mental health helpline ‘Talian Harapan 145’ was introduced earlier this year to provide crisis support for those struggling with mental disorders. The ministry also implemented health promotion programmes in the workplace and the nutrition and physical activity guidelines for childcare centres.

He added that the ministry is aware of the importance of protecting the public’s health and taking serious steps to ensure preparedness in addressing any threats such as outbreaks of infectious diseases.

A recent evaluation conducted by World Health Organization concluded that Brunei has the capacity to prevent, detect and respond to any public health threats, including epidemics such as disease outbreaks as well as chemical and radiation emergencies.

Dato Dr Hj Mohd Isham said the evaluation also put forward recommendations for improvements and actions to improve the country’s preparedness.