Mon | Sep 25, 2017

CARICOM 38 | Leaders to face call for more action on NCDs

Published:Wednesday | July 5, 2017 | 7:00 AM

Ten years after CARICOM led the world in convening the very first conference of Heads of Government on non-communicable diseases Ten years after CARICOM led the world in convening the very first conference of Heads of Government on non-communicable diseases (NCDs), there are concerns that the region has missed the mark in several areas.

Leaders meeting in Grenada for the 38th CARICOM Conference of Heads of Government are expected to take time out to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the signing of the landmark Port-of-Spain Declaration on NCDs.

But in terms of progress made in the NCD response, the picture is a decidedly mixed one.

Awareness of NCDs and their devastating effect on the health and development of the region has grown enormously. The dangers of childhood obesity are much better known. Barbados and Dominica have introduced taxes on sugary drinks and more countries are set to follow.

However, the Caribbean has also become a world leader in chronic diseases in quite the wrong way.

According to Dr Alafia Samuels, director of the George Alleyne Chronic Disease Research Centre at the University of the West Indies, the statistics are shocking.

"Our soda consumption is the highest in the world. In some countries, more than 30 per cent of young people are overweight or obese. Our diabetes rates are double global rates and in some populations, up to 50 per cent of us are living with high blood pressure. It is clear that we need to accelerate our response," said Samuels.

Dr James Hospedales, the executive director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency, agrees.

"There are gains in some areas. However, some, like diet, nutrition, obesity just keep getting worse, and that drives diabetes, cancer, heart disease.

'Obesity in children is red flag'

"The food environment is not healthy. Obesity in children is the red flag. And, economically, we cannot afford to carry those preventable costs when we are struggling to grow," said Hospedales.

In Grenada this week, the regional leaders will be asked to consolidate pledges made at the 2016 meeting, where they promised to address such issues as banning smoking in public places; banning the advertising of unhealthy foods to children; and raising taxes on food high in sugar, salts and trans-fats.

"We will continue to push for concrete commitments. We want to see more action on getting a tobacco-free Caribbean and on childhood obesity. The will is there from the leadership, and we hope to get these commitments that put the region back at the heart of the global NCD response. We need to have another push at this 10-year anniversary," said Samuels, who is attending the meeting.