WHO Success Story: WHO helps Maldives butt out and kick the habit
It is widely believed that the Portuguese brought the tobacco habit to the region during their occupation of the Indian sub continent. It soon spread to all countries in the region becoming a habit and socially accepted norm. Today, tobacco revenue as a percentage of the government annual revenue is substantial in most countries and in Maldives for the year 1998 to 1999 alone it was US$ 11.8 million.Smoking attributable morbidity data are scarce in the region.
But, sporadic research in different parts of the region suggests that smoking is responsible for cardiovascular disease, cancer and respiratory ailments. Second hand smoke is also a major problem. In most countries of the region lung cancer mortality tops the list among all cancer deaths, particularly among males. Oral cavity cancer also stands out prominently even among women in this region. Recognising the harmful effects of tobacco on human health, the Maldivian government with assistance from WHO launched its first anti tobacco campaign in the 1990s.
The focus of the campaign was on creating awareness to empower people to take action for healthy lifestyles and advocate for smoke free environments. By then there were health warnings on tobacco products in place. Leaflets, posters and billboards that depicted messages on the health hazards of tobacco use were all used in the campaign.
“Since I have stopped smoking, I can play and keep up with my kids now. I have noticed that I have plenty more energy than I used to” says Ahmed Haleem. He recalls “when I used to smoke I was smoking about 2 packs a day and I did not enjoy any physical activity because it used to just tire me out”.
Faathuma from the small island community of Hinnavaru is no longer worried about her children inhaling passive smoke or catching the habit from her – which she says is quite common. “I see a lot of women and men smoking in front of children and when the kids grow up they see smoking it as a natural part of being grown up”.
The initial campaign was a great success. Many tobacco users both male and female quit the habit bringing to a decrease the number of tobacco users in the country. A survey conducted in the year 2001 showed that the number of tobacco users had decreased from 57 to 29 % in males and 29 to 15% in females from the year 1997. The survey also indicated that 83% of men and 92% of women were aware and could recall the hazards of tobacco use.
Furthermore, the proportion of households with one or more tobacco users had also declined from 80 % to 61% during this period. Maldives is strongly committed to controlling the tobacco epidemic in the country. Maldives mark World No Tobacco day each year and hazards of tobacco have also been incorporated into school health education programs.
WHO has been instrumental in the Maldives’ fight against tobacco. With its help Maldives has participated in the international Quit and Win Tobacco Cessation Competition and with WHO assistance- both technical and financial, the country is actively implementing most actions identified in the convention against tobacco use.