The World Health Organisation was established April 7, 1948 and since then, on that day, the world celebrates World Health Day. Director of the Astana Centre for Healthy Living Marat Kurmanov recently talked about the state of health affairs in the capital.
What are the tasks of the centre today?
Its objectives are the same: promoting healthy lifestyles and good nutrition, reducing the level of socially transmitted diseases, the study of indicators of behavioral risk factors, ensuring the health of schoolchildren and adolescents, the prevention of road traffic injuries, fighting tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, monitoring screening studies and protection of reproductive health. I have been leading this service since 2010 and I’d like to say that leading a healthy lifestyle is not as easy a task as it might seem at first glance.
What are the most pressing tasks regarding health problems today?
The majority of our adult population is overweight and this phenomenon is behind most cardiovascular diseases in the country, which is the leading cause of mortality. If you look at the statistics, you see that more than 40 percent of Kazakhstan’s people today are overweight and about 18-20 percent are obese. Our main programmes are aimed at promoting a balanced diet, including fruits and vegetables and preventing inactivity. Today, people spend a lot of time sitting at the computer and watching TV. This sedentary lifestyle leads to excess weight and impairment of the cardiovascular system. Starting April 1, we will be living in the decade of healthy eating. Our website, which has more than two million users, also promotes healthy eating. Another pressing problem is adolescent suicide. Kazakhstan is still among the top three countries in adolescent suicide.
What are the causes?
The problem is very complex; single parent families, conflicts with parents and teachers and social psychological problems within the family are all contributing factors. Where can children find help in such cases? In addition, we should take into account the fragility of the child’s psychology complicated by their awkward age. We have organised psychiatric services and developed and introduced research tests for a universal psycho-diagnostic apparatus. Now, we can identify the warning signs of adolescent suicide in advance and notify specialists. We conduct this research testing on a voluntary basis, but this year, the Ministry of Defence decided to use this psycho diagnostic system during conscription.
Will it be introduced in secondary schools?
The use of any methods of research in our country is regulated by the law. Thus, persons under 18 cannot be examined or tested without permission from parents or legal guardians. We cannot violate the law, but if the pedagogical councils and parent committees recommend it, we will cooperate with them.
Recently, the public fund Ules, together with the Department on Drug Trafficking and the Centre for Healthy Living held its second event aimed at combating drug addiction. How acute is this problem?
Actually, addiction is a very serious phenomenon, taking into account the fact that in Kazakhstan, there is wild hemp, for example in the Chu valley. In addition, drug addicts try to buy substances from pharmacies to help convert one type of drug into another. This is a global problem. Also, we must take into consideration the fact that our country is located on the drug trafficking corridor connecting Afghanistan to Europe. But at the same time, I must say that at least in the capital, the situation with drug addiction improves every year. This is manifested by a steady decline in the number of addicts subject to medical checkups. We adopted the programme Astana: A City Without Drugs and our centre is closely cooperating with the CADAP and CADCA, two international organisations that are engaged in drug use prevention.
Besides, bad habits cannot be treated as separate problems. We should promote more than victory over one particular bad habit. Whether it is alcoholism, smoking or drug addiction, we must promote living a healthy lifestyle. We organise events such as the Festival of Health, the nationwide contest “The Territory of Dance,” a youth rap-festival, the bard festival “String Drops” and many other entertainment and sporting events. All of them are aimed at engaging creative young people and encouraging a healthy society.
All this is done to increase the average life expectancy of our population. Gradually our effort is paying off. In 1991, the average life expectancy was 58, now it is 70. Of course, it is unrealistic, for example, to persuade the entire population to give up smoking. But our main objective is to prevent people from starting.
What is done in the regions to promote healthy living?
In fact, new stadiums, football and other sports grounds are being constructed in all regions of the republic. Therefore, our young people have a choice: to hit the skids or start to develop their abilities. An additional incentive for young people is the possibility to succeed in national sports, achieve affection and the attention that top athletes command. We organise mass sporting events that include thousands of people to promote healthy lifestyles.