Regional Director's Address to Staff on World Health Day 2016, 7 April 2016, WHO-SEARO, New Delhi, India

by Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region

Good morning colleagues and our guests,

Wellbeing and happiness are intangibles we all desire for and, the foundation of happiness. We all must realize to have good health is well within our own control. This year’s focus of World Health Day is extremely relevant for us and our Region - diabetes.

The price of progress is diseases due to excesses. Diabetes is a case in point. When in earlier times people had less rich food, lesser quantities to consume, and more physical labour to till the farms, diseases such as diabetes were rare. Now we spend much of our lives sitting, we eat far too much and, more importantly, we eat rich foods, the resultant calories which we never burn because we do not often do any physical activity.

  We are all fortunate to be in an organization that champions the protection and preservation of health. But this privilege entails responsibility. Each of us must be a leader in the effort to combat the rising trend of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancers; all of these are, to a large extent, preventable with healthier lifestyle choices.

How many of us know that 30 minutes of physical activity a day can keep diabetes and heart diseases at bay? We all know it. Yet how many of us actually achieve this goal? Very few, I’m sure. The gap between knowledge and practice is often high.

The most common excuse for not doing any physical activity is lack of time. It is well said that “he who cannot find time to be healthy, will have to find time to be sick.” We must manage our daily schedule and give priority to our health. We must shift our mindsets and include physical activity, healthier diet and exercise as part of our daily priorities. Simple things such as using the stairs instead of the lift, watching our caloric intake and eating healthy foods can win half the battle against lifestyle related chronic diseases. We have a badminton court and a gym on the building premises. We have weekly yoga classes. How many of us actually make use of these facilities? Several do and I commend them.

I am also encouraged by the many positive initiatives in our office to promote healthy lifestyles. But, I do believe more can be done. At SEARO, I propose to reinforce and strengthen workplace health promotion as a core business value and part of our organizational culture. Let’s call it BE THE CHANGE Program. We will focus on building a work environment that promotes healthy eating, physical and mental fitness.

BE THE CHANGE Program comprises of SIX WATCH components:

1. Watch your plate- We will promote conscious calorie intake reduction and discourage consumption of unhealthy food. We will make green leafy vegetables and fruits and more choices of salads at the cafeteria, and promote clean water as preferred substitute for sugary drinks;
2. Watch your weight and waist- We will place weighing scales, measurement tapes and BMI machines in strategic locations of the building;
3. Watch your steps- We will encourage taking the steps rather than the lifts, actively promote use of the fitness center and badminton court, and have a monthly self-assessment of one’s physical activity level;
4. Watch your stress level- We will promote yoga, introduce stress consultation and staff counseling services, and create a space for reflection and thinking
5. Watch your change- We will conduct six-monthly screening of blood sugar, blood cholesterol and blood pressure at the worksite in addition to routine medical services;
6. Watch your tobacco and alcohol consumption- All WHO premises will be tobacco free, and we encourage moving towards an environment free from the harmful effects of alcohol. Further, we will introduce self-help and group-help for those who need support for alcohol or smoking cessation efforts on a six monthly basis

These initiatives are relatively simple, yet will have far reaching impact on the prevention of diabetes, cancers and heart diseases.

At the country level, many praiseworthy events are taking place. In Bhutan, Walk for Happiness and Wellbeing was initiated in January 2016. The Walk for Happiness and Wellbeing is a one-hour walk before lunch every Wednesday for WCO staff. The office is also discouraging use of betel quid during working hours.

WCO Indonesia has initiated a Wednesday yoga class and participates annually in the UN badminton competition. The Staff Association conducts a “health talk” every few months to update staff on issues related to their health and wellbeing.

Similarly, WCO Thailand promotes activities including workplace ergonomics, first aid, and screening programs.

We encourage all WCOs to innovate healthy workplace programs.

On 2016 World Health Day, I strongly urge our offices, Regional as well as Country, to strengthen their commitment to make our workplaces healthier. We should lead by example and encourage organizations, including government agencies and others, to adopt similar workplace practices.

To support this year’s World Health Day theme and combat diabetes, we must take meaningful steps to make healthy lifestyle choices a norm for individuals, organizations, communities and societies.

Let’s begin at our offices and take it to our homes, neighborhoods and societies. Let’s create a wave of health consciousness that can influence school systems, organizations and institutions to adopt healthy workplace policies.

Today, on the 2016 World Health Day, I call upon our staff and WCOs to be agents of change and role models for our families, neighborhoods and communities. Let’s walk the talk. Let’s adopt healthier practices to live longer and healthier lives.

Thank you.