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UWI and partners lead regional response to non-communicable diseases

For Release Upon Receipt - Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The regional response to the threat of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) must be intensified immediately if the wellbeing of Caribbean people is to be protected. This was the key message emerging from a major regional workshop held on February 24-25 at the Hilton Trinidad. The workshop, titled Uniting to Stop the NCD Epidemic – Time to Accelerate Action forms part of an evaluation project stemming from a 2007 endorsement from CARICOM of the Port of Spain Declaration on NCDs. The project was funded by the Canadian International Development Research Council (IDRC) and led by The University of the West Indies (The UWI) on behalf of the CARICOM and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

The lively two-day event brought together ministers, academics, experts and activists from some 14 Caribbean countries to review the results of an expert evaluation of the landmark 2007 CARICOM Port of Spain Declaration on NCDs. A new Plan for Action was also developed. NCDs, such as heart attack, stroke, diabetes and cancer, are taking a heavy toll on the population in the region and the risk factors that lead to these diseases are spiralling. The NCD burden in the Caribbean is the worst in the Americas. In some countries, 80% of adults are overweight or obese, more than half have high blood pressure and 25% are diabetic.

In his address at last Wednesday’s Opening Ceremony, Trinidad and Tobago’s Minister of Health, the Honourable Terrence Deyalsingh, was very forthright and talked passionately about his own experience. “I am a ‘poster boy’ for diabetes,” He said. “I belong to the Asian racial grouping and have a predisposition for diabetes. Genetics will tell me my parents were diabetics and suffered horrendous deaths due to complications of diabetes. I can’t help that. But what I can change is what I eat, how I exercise and how I live my life.”

According to Director of the Chronic Disease Research Centre at The UWI, Dr Alafia Samuels, who is one of the leaders of the evaluation project, the Plan for Action emerging from the workshop will enable people to make these healthy choices and changes. “We need to set priorities together, we need to make recommendations and monitor what we are doing to see the impact of our programmes. Have we reduced high blood pressure? Have we stopped the increase in diabetes? Are there fewer people dying prematurely from NCDs?”

The importance of a multisectoral response, bringing everyone together to tackle NCDs, was reinforced by Mrs Jessie Schutt-Aine of PAHO, who stressed that, “We need a whole-of-government and a whole-of-society approach; bringing together trade, agriculture, the food industry, health, education and other sectors. We need civil society, schools, churches, the entire community working together towards this common goal.”

The all-of-society nature of a solid NCD response was reflected in the participants with, for example, the Barbados Minister of Industry, International Business and Commerce, the Hon. Donville Inniss, playing a leading role in proceedings. Talking of multisectorality, he noted, “We can’t talk about chronic non-communicable diseases…without looking heavily at the factors that influence them…So the foods that we eat do have an impact on our health outcomes and the foods we eat are influenced by our accessibility to them which of course relates to the pricing of them which by extrapolation relates to government policy in terms of importation, rates of duty and taxation.”

The Minister also shared with the audience, including experts in health, economics, agriculture and town and country planning among others, the inside track on how best to get NCDs in general, and the Plan for Action in particular, higher on the political agenda.

Dr Zee Leung of IDRC told the meeting that he was “very proud of the work the evaluation team is doing. A lot has been accomplished.”

During the course of the workshop, participants explored a range of issues surrounding the Port of Spain Declaration’s 27 ambitious commitments. The Plan for Action formulated focused on areas such as: diet, food and food security; reducing alcohol-related harm; tobacco control; physical activity and the built environment; promoting health in specific settings like workplaces and schools; financing NCD prevention and control; and advocacy and communication.

For more details contact Ms. Joan Tull | Project Information and Communication Officer, Port of Spain Declaration Evaluation Group at 1 246 233 3770, email: joan.tull@healthycaribbean.org or visit www.posevaluation.org










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