Time to turn the tide on NCDs in the Caribbean

Geneva, Switzerland, May 25, 2016:  The CARICOM countries have a combined population of over 16 million and an average life expectancy ranging from 70 to 80 years except in Haiti, where it is 62 years.  The Caribbean region also has the highest burden of non communicable diseases (NCDs) in the Americas.  

The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), and Caribbean Health Ministers attended a CARICOM side event at the 69th World Health Assembly, at which they discussed next steps in confronting an epidemic of heart disease, strokes, diabetes and cancer which is the worst in the Americas.  

The meeting, hosted by Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa Etienne told participants they are in a unique position to turn the tide against the region’s growing epidemic of NCDs and need to do much more.  She also stated that a joint strategy to return NCDs to the political agenda of Heads of Government is needed, and should be framed as a development and economic priority.   

Participants included Ministers of Health from several countries including Hon. Molwyn Joseph of Antigua and Barbuda, Hon. Patrick Pengel of Suriname and Grenada’s Hon. Nickolas Steele. They were joined by health officials such as Dr James Hospedales, Executive Director (CARPHA) Caribbean Public Health Agency, Dr Rudolph Cummings of the CARICOM Health Desk and Dr Alafia Samuels, Director of the Chronic Disease Research Centre. 

The meeting also explored a range of concrete steps countries could take to improve the NCD response in the region. The list included tackling childhood obesity by banning advertising and promotion of unhealthy foods, advocating for taxation of unhealthy food, ensuring there is a person responsible solely for NCDs within each Ministry of Health and social health insurance for quality health services and universal coverage.

The Ministers acknowledged the weight of their responsibility and several highlighted steps already taken to rise to the challenge of NCDs. These included increased budget allocation for NCD prevention and wellness promotion, reduction of taxes on fruits and vegetables, enacting tobacco legislation and placing graphic warnings on cigarette packets, and advocating to ban the importation of products containing trans fats.  

NCDs were high on the agenda for the 69th World Health Assembly, which hosted some 3,500 delegates from 194 countries between 23-28 May. Decisions taken will include how risk factors can be reduced and tackling childhood obesity and tobacco control. 


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