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BASSETERRE, ST. KITTS, June 1, 2017 (PLP PR Media Inc.) — Prime Minister and Minister of National Security, Dr the Hon Timothy Harris, gave notice on Wednesday May 31 that the Federation would be joining other CARICOM countries that have taken steps to stem the rise of chronic non-communicable diseases (CNCDs) by way of tax elevation on food high in sugar, salt and trans-fats.
“Our Team Unity Government has a vested interest in the overall security of our Federation, and not just in our national security,” said Dr Harris at a press conference held at Government Headquarters, the second in the month of May.
“Our Nation’s Health Security is of paramount importance since, without good health and wellness we would have nothing of value. As such, I want to encourage our residents and citizens to pay greater attention to their health and wellness. Prevention is still better and cheaper than the cure.”
The CARICOM’s lead spokesman on Health, HIV and AIDS, and Human Resources, Prime Minister Harris advised the Federation that he wanted to draw certain facts to the national attention and for action.
“We (the Caribbean) have the highest burden of chronic non-communicable diseases (CNCDs) in the Americas,” lamented Dr Harris. “The chronic non-communicable diseases are the leading causes of morbidity and mortality – that is the leading cause of death. They are responsible for more than three out of every four deaths in the Caribbean region.
“This I am advised is in contrast to the other areas of the Americas, for example Latin America where persons living in the CARICOM territories have the highest likelihood of dying prematurely from chronic non-communicable diseases, and this between the ages ranging from 30 to 70.”
The Prime Minister who was joined at the head table by the Chief Medical Officer Dr Hazel Laws, said that the challenge of the non-communicable diseases, in particular hypertension and diabetes, was that they were the leading causes of morbidity in the Federation.
With him at the head table were the Deputy Prime Minister the Hon Shawn Richards, Senior Minister and Premier of Nevis the Hon Vance Amory, the Minister of Public Infrastructure, Posts, Urban Development and Transport the Hon Ian Patches Liburd, and the Attorney General the Hon Vincent Byron Jr.
According to Dr Harris, in 2016 the CARICOM heads had suggested three things that should be done to deal with the situation, and based on the statistics he had presented he felt that there was the need to find which of those three things could be done and done quickly if the Federation was to reverse the trend.
He advised that CARICOM had asked that smoking be banned in public places, and that the advertisement of potentially harmful foods which specifically targeted children should be banned.
Turning to the Chief Medical Officer Dr Hazel Laws, who was in attendance, the Prime Minister said: “As part of the public education programme, not necessarily today, we have to again engage our schools, our cafeterias, our work places, so that people are put on better alert.
The third suggestion by CARICOM heads, Prime Minister Harris noted, was to elevate the taxes on foods high in sugar, salt and trans-fats. He told the press conference that a number of jurisdictions had already moved with the third suggestion to elevate the tax on foods high in sugar, salt and trans-fats, not so much as a revenue measure but for the deterrent effect perceived it could have.
“Dominica in 2015 for example implemented an excise tax of $0.29 per litre on soft drinks and 10% on energy drinks,” continued Dr Harris. “And I am advised that there is an expanding body of literature supporting the effectiveness of fiscal policies such as these in reducing the consumption of unhealthy foods, drinks and substances.
“So my Cabinet will be looking at this in a very serious way.”
Also present at the press conference were the Financial Secretary Mrs Hillary Hazel, and her two deputies Mr Calvin Edwards, and Mrs Sylvia Gumbs.
Prime Minister Dr the Hon Timothy Harris, who is also the Political Leader of one of the three parties in the governing Team Unity Administration, the Peoples Labour Party (PLP), promotes healthy lifestyles through his monthly Health Walks that have now been embraced by many people in St. Kitts who join him every last Saturday of the month. The walks which initially targeted Constituency Seven have now been extended, and the next one will cover Constituencies Eight, Two and One.
At the invitation by the Prime Minister to provide her evaluation of what were the contributory factors undermining good health, the Chief Medical Officer Dr Hazel Laws noted that as a Ministry they realised that the biggest risk factors for developing the non-communicable diseases include unhealthy diet, inactivity, use of tobacco, and use of alcohol, and therefore confirmed that they were focusing all their efforts on those risk factors.
“We would advise persons to reduce their sugar consumption, yes, because that is part of unhealthy eating, and we want you to cut down on your salt consumption also,” advised Dr Laws. “And as a Ministry, if we are going to tell you to not use sugar-sweetened beverages there must be an alternate option and so we are promoting the use of sparkling natural water.”