WHO endorses South Africa’s sugar tax

The World Health Organization has backed South Africa’s stance on taxing sugary drinks. It is a step towards curbing non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and obesity, says the organisation.

Sugar tax
South Africa’s sugar tax is first announced on 12 February 2016 during the national budget. It will be implemented in 2017, once legislation is finalised. (Image: Pixabay)

Brand South Africa reporter

The World Organization (WHO) has voiced its support for South Africa’s upcoming tax on sugared drinks. It is part of the country’s campaign to promote better health and curb the incidence of non-communicable diseases such as obesity and diabetes.

Originally announced in the 2016 national budget by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, he said in his 2017 budget it would be implemented later this year after legislation had been passed and details finalised.

“The WHO fully supports the government of South Africa’s commitment to implement a tax on sugary drinks as part of its ongoing drive to improve the health of its people and address the epidemic of non-communicable diseases (NCDs),” says Dr Rufaro Chatora, the WHO’s representative to South Africa.


Chatora adds: “By implementing a tax on sugary drinks to increase the prices of these beverages, South Africa will be taking a proactive step to reduce intake of sugars, which contribute to unhealthy weight gain and other diet-related NCDs, including diabetes.”

Watch Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi talk about the sugar tax:

According to a report titled “Mortality and Causes of Death” released on 28 February 2017 by Stats SA, “the three leading causes of natural deaths in 2014 were tuberculosis (TB), diabetes mellitus and cerebrovascular diseases”.

While TB remains the leading cause of death in the country, NCDs continue their rise in the rankings of top 10 leading causes with diabetes mellitus moving from third position in 2014 to second position in 2015.

The findings, says Stats SA, will help in better planning and meeting the National Development Plan goal to ensure a long and healthy life for the population by 2030.

WHO member states around the world, including South Africa, have committed to halting the rise of obesity and diabetes, and reducing the number of deaths from NCDs by 25% by 2025, and by 33% by 2030. The latter target is in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Setting a good example

South Africa’s stance on sugary drinks and other products that can negatively affect health such as tobacco and alcohol, Chatora says, sets an example that other countries can follow.

“By taking such actions, South Africa is demonstrating that with political commitment and investment in health promotion that it is possible to beat back the scourge of NCDs, including diabetes and obesity.”

Additionally, the co-operation between the departments of Finance, Health and others, Chatora says, demonstrates the importance of acting to curb NCDs.

“Experience from other countries that have implemented taxation of sugary drinks has demonstrated its potential to reduce consumption of sugars and raise revenues that can be used to prevent and control diabetes, obesity and other NCDs,” the WHO says.

South Africa will be the first country in Africa to implement a sugar tax. Other countries that have already done so include Mexico, Hungary and France. The UK plans to do so in 2018.

Focus on health issues

Besides the sugar tax, the budget addresses other issues related to the health of South Africans:

  • The commitment to achieve universal health coverage in line with the country’s National Development Plan;
  • Increasing excise duties on alcohol and tobacco; and,/li>
  • Plans to establish a National Health Insurance fund, initially to improve access to maternal, ante-natal and family planning services; expand school health programmes; and improve services for people with disabilities, ageing populations and people requiring mental health services.

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