PAHO Workshop For Journalists Looks At NCDS

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Media practitioners??listen attentively to a presentation at the workshop on CNCDs.
(A. Holder/BGIS)

A two-day workshop for local and regional media professionals on the epidemic of killer non-communicable diseases, their impact on the society and the role of the media as a tool for information dissemination was recently staged by the Pan American Health Organization and the Commonwealth Secretariat in Barbados.

The workshop was designed to raise awareness by media practitioners about these ailments in light of the upcoming United Nations High-Level Summit on Non-Communicable Diseases to be held in New York on September 19 and 20.

In her address to participants, Senior Medical Officer at the Ministry of Health (CNCD) Dr. Leslie Rollock said: "I think that it is entirely appropriate that media practitioners from the Caribbean region should be among the first to benefit from this capacity building exercise, particularly in view of the fact that it was the CARICOM Heads of Government who were in the forefront of bringing the significant issue of non-communicable diseases to the fore at the global level".

Dr. Rollock noted that the media will be significant enablers of ongoing efforts to communicate disease burden, health risks at the individual and population level and prevention information to the members of the public. She added that this was in keeping with the media’s mandate to ensure that the populace has access to important information that affects their health. She went on to say that "as journalists with an interest in addressing non-communicable diseases, you must be equipped to

recognise and highlight evidence based on highly cost-effective interventions which will be necessary to redress the current crisis".

During the seminar it was pointed out that until recently, these ???silent killers’, as they have come to be known, occupied a relatively low profile on the global stage. The recent attention by world leaders has aided in changing this perception.

Non- communicable diseases are the leading cause of illness, disability and death, both regionally and on a global scale. In the Caribbean, they are the primary reason for death through heart disease, stroke, diabetes, respiratory disease and some cancers. The causes of these NCDs have been listed as unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, tobacco use, stress and harmful use of alcoholic substances. These conditions sometimes go undetected for long periods of time.

Also discussed at the workshop was the fact that developing countries, poorer regions and persons of lower socio-economic status are reporting escalating numbers of NCDs. According to Advisor on NCDs and Mental Health at PAHO (Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Countries) Dr. Tomo Kanda, 66 per cent of NCD deaths occur in developing countries.?? Consequently, the Caribbean is facing a direct threat to any future economic gains, since the combination of these factors may lead to an unprecedented public health crisis.

It was disclosed that as communities become more urbanised and populations become older, physical activity continues to decline. Parallel to this is a shift away from balanced home-cooked meals to energy-dense ???fast foods’ rich in fat, sugar and salt. This change has resulted in record levels of obesity.

The World Health Organization estimates 35 million or 60 per cent of persons die annually from chronic diseases. This astounding number is expected to climb to 75 per cent by 2020. It is suspected that 80 per cent of these deaths will occur in low and middle income developing countries.

The Caribbean is worst affected by the epidemic of NCDs. Presently, approximately 25 per cent of adults are obese, 25 per cent are hypertensive and the prevalence of diabetes is above 10 per cent in at least four of the Caribbean islands. The Caribbean Epidemiological Centre states that for all countries with the exception of Jamaica, the leading cause of death in 2004 was heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, hypertension and HIV/AIDS respectively.

NCDs have also made a significant impact on Barbados. The Chronic Disease Research Centre of the University of the West Indies has estimated that 38,000 of Barbadians ages 20 years and over are living with high blood pressure;

while 90,000 are overweight; 19,000 are diabetic; and one person suffers from a stroke daily.

A study conducted by Dr. Abdullahi O. Abdulkadri of the University of the West Indies makes a link between the economic burden associated with diabetes and hypertension. According to this data, the overall costs of diabetes in Barbados represented 1.83 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), or BDS $72,602,276. ??The direct costs have been attributed to BDS $69, 810, 744 and indirect costs at BDS $5, 791, 532. ??The total cost of hypertension represented 3.51 per cent, or BDS $145, 311, 954 the direct cost amounting to BDS $101,666,200, with the indirect figure at BDS $43,645, 734.

What is even more noteworthy is that 60 per cent of the Barbados Drug Service’s budget is spent on treating NCDs. Added to this is the toll and anguish on individuals and their families and the loss of?? human life and potential.

The increasing cost of these conditions has generated an urgent need for work to be done by not only the medical officials but the average Barbadian as well through prevention, early detection, adequate management and care.

Hence the reason for having the workshop, as Dr. Rollock maintained part of solving these problems would be disseminating the appropriate messaging to the relative stakeholders. "It is here that you as members of the journalistic fraternity will play a critical role. Specific actions will, undoubtedly, include the development of media campaigns along with building healthy literacy so as to facilitate improved

prevention and management of non-communicable diseases, including self-management among persons affected by these diseases", she told journalists.

The Caribbean Charter for Health Promotion lists "building alliances with special emphasis on media" as one of its strategies. This is in consideration of the power of the media to influence the formulation of policies, programmes and the lives of the Caribbean people.?? It is for this reason that the influence of media cannot be underestimated or understated.

alyson.holder@barbados.gov.bb

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