CARICOM priority necessary to lowering non-communicable diseases

GEORGETOWN, Guyana – Chair of the Caribbean Commission on Health and Development (CCHD), Sir George Alleyne has issued a plea to CARICOM Governments to treat with urgency the preponderance of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and their mortal effects on the people of the Caribbean.

The United Nations Special Envoy to the Caribbean on HIV/AIDS was at the time delivering a lecture on the topic: Priorities for Health and Development in the Caribbean, at the Fifteenth Meeting of the CARICOM Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD), on Friday, October 20th in Georgetown, Guyana.

In highlighting the importance of health, education, human freedoms, economic growth and the environment to human development, Sir George emphasized that health was at the center of human development.

He stated that health “increased the capacity” for learning among students, and noted that a healthy population lived longer and assured the reaping of “more returns” for a country.

However, he alluded to the nexus between income and healthy households, but affirmed that the Caribbean must reject the notion of its inability to meet similar levels of healthy living like some developed countries of the world.

He pointed out that whereas statistics indicated that 3.1 million people worldwide died as a result of HIV/AIDS in 2004, 30,000 being from the wider Caribbean, 35 million lives were lost to Non Communicable Diseases for the same period. Against this setting, the UN health official stressed that there be no slackening of the fervency with which the Caribbean was conducting its fight against HIV/AIDS, but he called on regional governments to give similar attention to tackling NCDs.

Sir George said that while the Caribbean had made “impressive gains” in stemming the tide of illnesses such as malnutrition and infant mortality, obesity was of growing concern, even among children. He said that obesity was often accompanied by hypertension and diabetes, with the latter disease being the steady cause of death among many persons in the Caribbean.

The University of the West Indies Chancellor suggested that change be brought about in the prevailing environment and modifiable approaches be sought to address NCDs. He singled out the creation of more walkways as means of encouraging physical activity to combat inactivity.

In addition, he cited the example to tobacco smoking as an hazardous Non-Communicable Disease, and challenged CARICOM Heads of Government to introduce taxation, legislation and regulation as mechanisms to deter the desire for and sale of tobacco.

He also issued a special plea to schools to market foods of nutritional value and reinforce physical education as an integral part of the school’s curriculum, and gave as his hallmark for children in school- Eat right, weigh right, exercise right.

Turning his attention to the departure of nurses from countries of the Region, an upward trend which has caused a general shortage of these health care workers throughout the Caribbean, the CCHD Chair quoted from Prime Minister of Barbados, the R Hon Own Arthur who said, “Our human resources are tradable commodity.” In agreeing with this statement, Sir George said it was interest of the Caribbean “to exploit the competitive market of our human resources.”

At the end of his presentation, the CCHD Chair fielded questions and comments from officials gathered at the COHSOD, and encouraged that health and education officials continue to collaborate for the health and well being of the people of the Region.

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