Since the 1960s, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s urban population has tripled and life expectancies have risen. This, however, has increased people’s exposure to tobacco, unhealthy diets, and physical inactivity – among the main risk factors for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), primarily cardiovascular and lung diseases, cancer and diabetes.
Thankfully, advances led by the very highest levels of government, and backed by the World Health Organization (WHO), to reduce the devastating impacts of NCDs are progressing rapidly, supported by strong governance and collaboration across all sectors of society.
Kolsoom, from the Kerman province city of Shahr-e-Babak , is among the many beneficiaries. “I was recently diagnosed as a diabetic,” she says. “I am unhappy about this, but at least I know so I can manage my condition and prevent its consequences.”
Like many Iranians, Kolsoom was diagnosed with a NCD after the implementation in 2016 of IraPEN – the Islamic Republic of Iran’s adaptation of WHO’s Package of essential NCD (PEN) interventions for primary health care.
IraPEN is part of the national health transformation plan, launched in 2014 by the Ministry of Health and Medical Education, to provide universal health coverage, including access to NCD prevention and care, and mental health services.
Health workers show Iranians, like Kolsoom, how to deal with their conditions, provide access to affordable medicines, and guidance on practicing healthy habits, like regular exercise and healthy diet to control her blood sugar.
IraPEN has been successfully piloted in Iran’s four main districts and its nationwide scale-up has begun in at least one district per province.
Across Iran, and thanks to the health transformation plan, the 11 key essential medicines for treating NCDs are available in the public health system. Their import prices have also fallen (a relative reduction of 26.5%). Almost all Iranians (over 96%) are covered by health insurance, including 10 million people from marginalised areas.
Joining the dots to beat NCDs
Cross-sectoral collaboration is central to WHO’s integrated support to fast-track progress in several countries to achieve global NCD targets. These include reducing premature death from NCDs by 25% by 2025, and by one-third by 2030 in line with the United Nations Agenda for Sustainable Development. Iran has scaled up its political commitment to the highest level to tackle NCDs. The Supreme Council of Health and Food Security, led by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, facilitates multisectoral collaboration across government, taking a “health in all” approach that considers health as integral to all policies, from agriculture and trade to urban planning.