OFFICIAL ADDRESS IN OBSERVANCE OF
WORLD HEALTH DAY 2016
Delivered by Minister of State with Responsibility for Health, Social Services, Gender Affairs & Community Development
Hon Wendy Colleen Phipps
Thursday, April 7, 2016
Fellow Citizens and Residents of St. Kitts & Nevis:
Today, Thursday, April 7, 2016 is being celebrated internationally as World Health Day, under the theme “BEAT DIABETES”. This global observance is being led by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and is meant to be a resounding call for action on diabetes which, in the year 2014 alone, was responsible for almost 5 million deaths – compared to the 1.5 million lives claimed by the illness in 2012.
The WHO confirms, in its first Global report on Diabetes: 2016, that the number of persons living with diabetes has quadrupled since 1980. A staggering 422 million persons are today affected by the disease, meaning that one in every 11 persons are now impacted by diabetes. The WHO also contends that unhealthy diet and obesity are among the key drivers of this upward trend in the global incidence of the disease.
As St. Kitts and Nevis joins the rest of the world in observance of World Health Day 2016 – with a focus on diabetes – it is useful for us to be reminded of what diabetes is.
In simplest terms, diabetes is the result of the human body’s inability to process blood sugar from the foods we consume. Our blood sugar levels are controlled by the hormone insulin, which is produced by the pancreas. Insulin is responsible for transporting glucose from our blood stream and into our cells, where the glucose is broken down to produce energy. When the pancreas either fails to produce insulin, or an ample and efficient supply of the hormone to break down glucose into energy, this condition is referred to as Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, respectively. The most common form of diabetes is Type 2 (representing 90% of cases) and can be controlled with a healthy diet, regular exercise, constant monitoring of blood glucose levels, and the maintenance of a healthy body weight. Over time, the diabetic may need to supplement these positive health practices with medication. Among the complications associated with diabetes are strokes, heart attacks, blindness, lower limb amputations and kidney failure.
The observance of World Health Day 2016 has particular significance for the people of St. Kitts and Nevis, given the fact that non-communicable diseases (NCDs) constitute the leading cause of death in our Federation. Non-communicable diseases include cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Of this list of illnesses, diabetes complications is registered as the fourth leading cause of death in our Nation. Our health statistics also indicate that 45% of our adult population is obese, while 14% of our children also struggle with obesity. Moreover, diabetes-related amputations is the third leading cause of major disabilities within our general population. These sobering figures paint a telling picture of the national imperative to reverse these negative statistics via robust health education and promotion efforts, and positive dietary and lifestyle changes. To do otherwise, would cause more and more of our limited national development budgets to be further consumed by already high, NCD-related health maintenance costs.
In my November 2015 address for “World Diabetes Day”, I would have cited statistics from the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) which estimates that diabetes had now risen to pandemic proportions. The disease now accounts for well over US$600 billion in healthcare costs worldwide. Our national health data also indicate that within our small population of less than 50,000 inhabitants, there are just under 1160 diabetics registered at the 17 Government health centres in St. Kitts and Nevis. When one includes diabetics being treated by private doctors, the total number of persons living with diabetes would increase considerably.
The goal of World Health Day 2016 is that of scaling up prevention, strengthening care, and enhancing surveillance. Here in St. Kitts and Nevis our efforts at achieving this three-tiered goal are concentrated on diabetes screenings, especially among persons with sedentary employment, including bus and taxi drivers. As such, the members of the St. Kitts Bus Associations and the St. Kitts Taxi Association are being targeted for screening, health education and counselling at The Circus Taxi Stand and the Basseterre Bus Terminal. Similar activities are in place for Nevis, where screenings are ongoing at the Memorial Square in Charlestown. Screenings on both islands would include blood pressure and blood sugar testing, and waist circumference measurement. The Health Promotion Units of the Ministries of Health on both St. Kitts and Nevis are undertaking these outreach activities.
As St. Kitts and Nevis observes World Health Day 2016, with special emphasis on beating diabetes, the Ministries of Health continue to encourage self-management and monitoring of chronic diseases within our public health system. The general public is also advised to also visit their community health centres on a regular basis to check their blood pressure and blood sugar levels. All of the health centres conduct regular Diabetic Clinics that also provide diabetic counselling and foot care.
Diabetes is a serious condition that has risen to epidemic levels and, as such, demand a concerted worldwide effort at prevention, treatment, management and education in an effort to improve our global health indicators, reduce the incidence of NCD-related deaths, and enhance the overall quality of life for every man, woman and child. There must be a consolidated response to diabetes by Government, the private sector, the medical community, civil society, donor agencies, the WHO, insurance companies, health maintenance organisations, and individuals living with the disease. The need for a united approach to diabetes is even more of an imperative, especially when one considers that by the year 2035 – less than 20 years from now – almost 600 million of us could be living with Type 2 diabetes. It is worth stressing that a large proportion of diabetes cases are preventable: healthy lifestyles and healthy eating would help to reduce the risks. Our Ministries of Health are therefore advocating the adoption of a healthy diet that is inclusive of leafy vegetables, fresh fruit, lean meat, whole grains, unsweetened yoghurt and nuts – in order to reduce both (a) the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and (b) the complications associated with diabetes. Such healthy lifestyles and diets should be started in childhood in order to stem the tide of the diabetes epidemic.
As we observe World Health Day 2016: May God bless us all as we commit ourselves to promoting healthy and positive lifestyles for the benefit of our current and future generations – and our Nation’s productivity and socio-economic competitiveness within the global marketplace.