Caricom Heads of Government have given a renewed commitment to tackling non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in their respective countries.
The commitment was given during discussions at the 38th CARICOM Heads of Government meeting held in Grande Anse, Grenada. Grenada’s Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell, during the closing press conference on Thursday, said it has been 10 years since the historic Port-of-Spain Declaration on NCDs.
The Port of Spain Declaration, signed in 2007, saw Heads of Government giving their full support to the initiatives and mechanisms aimed at strengthening regional health institutions to provide critical leadership required for implementing agreed strategies for the reduction of the burden of chronic non-communicable diseases as a central priority of the Caribbean Co-operation in Health Initiative Phase III (CCH III), being coordinated by the Caricom Secretariat with able support from the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) and other relevant partners.
Dr Mitchell has said the Heads are aware that the Region has fallen behind in the battle against the deadly diseases, and also in fulfilling the goals of the declaration. He said one of the most alarming signs was the high incidents of childhood obesity, a major risk factor for NCDs.
“We simply cannot afford to continue the lifestyle and food consumption patterns which are literally killing us”, Dr Mitchell told regional journalists.
Prime Minister of St Kitts and Nevis, Dr Timothy Harris, told his Caricom colleagues that chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) continue to be an economic burden for most Caribbean countries.
Addressing the first plenary session of the Heads of Government summit, Harris said NCDs represent a significant contributor to mortality/morbidity within the region.
Citing the findings of a 2016 study of the Economic Dimensions of NCDs in Trinidad and Tobago, the St Kitts and Nevis prime minister said that an estimated five per cent of that country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is being lost by the impact of preventable diabetes, hypertension and cancer.
Of that five percent, Dr. Harris disclosed, “50 percent of the loss in GDP is a result of direct medical care costs, and the other 50 percent relates to a loss in productivity. These are significant costs that are unsustainable. Importantly, they are preventable impediments to growth,” the prime minister stated, adding that similar estimates were reported for Jamaica and Barbados.
Meanwhile, Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness, also speaking at the media briefing, expressed concerns similar to those raised by Prime Minister Mitchell. He said the diseases were of concern to Jamaica. Holness reiterated his country’s support for the various efforts being taken in the Region, particularly as those relate to smoking, use of sugars, and consumption of sweetened drinks.
He said the Heads discussed the issue of using fiscal measures, such as taxation, to address the problem. He also advised that Jamaica has adopted a programme dubbed ‘Jamaica Move’, which encourages citizens to engage in a more active lifestyle.
Caricom Secretary-General, Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, reiterated his stance that each citizen of the Region has a responsibility for his/her health.
“We can put our rules and regulations; we can put our tobacco labelling; we can enforce taxes on sweets and so on; but every one of us has a responsibility for our lives as well. We do! We are the ones who feed ourselves. We are the ones who consume saturated fats, and we are the ones who are contributing to our own ill health,” He said.
Member States would continue to do what they have to do, including embarking on more public education and utilising holistic approaches to address the issue.