Prime Minister, Freundel Stuart (left), in discussions with Minister of Health, Donville Inniss, Minister of Industry, Denis Kellman and CEO of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Dr. Dexter James at the recent National Consultation. (A.??Miller/BGIS)

As CARICOM countries prepare to take the issue of the disease burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York, this September, it is expected that many officials at this time, will be engaged in consultations of a multi-sectoral nature.

Barbados is no exception.?? Its recent hosting of a National Consultation at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre (LESC) forcibly ???brought home’ the importance of?? countries readying themselves to ensure their needs and objectives are clearly articulated and reflected in the deliberations of the United Nation’s High-Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases (UNHLM) on September 19 and 20.

The island’s Health Minister, Donville Inniss, in addressing the forum, acknowledged that Barbados’ participation at the global meeting was in keeping with the strategic directions of the Government. He noted specific concerns had already been identified, and he listed these as: the marketing of unhealthy food and products to children; the need for food product reformulation; the need to create and foster a built environment promoting health and safety; and facilitating exercise in daily life.

Stakeholders at the consultation heard that their attendance signalled "a commitment to a common goal to reduce the high level of CNCDs in Barbados" and also represented the beginning of "stronger partnerships across sectors to address one of our greatest challenges, the growing epidemic of CNCDs".??

The presence of Prime Minister, Freundel Stuart lent some import to the meeting and he was extolled by the Health Minister for "his continuous support for the efforts of the Health Ministry" and Barbados’ attendance at the UN High-Level Meeting. "Your presence and strong support at local and regional levels is great testimony to the importance your Government attaches to effectively battling the challenges of NCDs," Mr. Inniss said.

In delivering the feature address at the consultation, the Prime Minister acknowledged the critical role played by Heads of Government of CARICOM, in convincing the global community of the need for urgency on the NCD situation. He indicated that following a series of diligent efforts by CARICOM, the United Nations General Assembly voted on May 13, 2010, in favour of a Resolution, tabled by Trinidad and Tobago on behalf of CARICOM Member States that called for the convening of the September 2011 meeting.

While outlining the history of the Meeting, he said commitment by CARICOM did not begin in 2010:?? "Leaders in CARICOM have long been convinced of the link between health and social and economic development." And, he restated the important sequence of events that pointed the way to the United Nations.??

It was explained that the Nassau Declaration, issued in 2001, by the Heads of Government, announced their acknowledgement of the role of health in the region’s development.

"[theme] The ???health of the region is the wealth of the region’, clearly articulated that health is a critical aspect of the development of the people of the region, and that expenditure in health is an investment in human capital," the Prime Minister said.

This commitment, Mr. Stuart stressed, was later reaffirmed by the leaders at their meeting in Montego Bay, in 2003, when they again expressed strong support for their decision to "promote the health and wellbeing of the people of the region.?? According to him, following on from the Nassau Declaration, the Heads established the Caribbean Commission on Health and Development, under the chairmanship of Barbadian, Sir George Alleyne.?? "That Commission was mandated to analyse the different dimensions of the health situation in the Caribbean, and to present recommendations to help CARICOM Member States to structure their health and development agendas," the Prime Minister maintained.??????

He continued: "But they did not stop there, convinced of the need for urgent action to reduce the burden caused by NCDs, and fully convinced that comprehensive action was what was needed to bring about change in the disease profile of the region, they convened a special Heads of Government Summit in September 2007, in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

"This meeting was significant, since it was the first time to our knowledge, that Heads of Government, anywhere in the world, had convened a meeting to discuss the effects of NCDs on their people."

The national consultation heard that this resulted in the Declaration of Port of Spain: Uniting to Stop the Epidemic of Chronic NCDs, being issued at the end of the Summit.?? The 15-point Declaration, it was noted, called on CARICOM Member States to undertake a number of actions to address the NCDs situation. It further challenged Heads of Government to provide critical leadership for implementing agreed strategies to reduce NCDs.??

So far, Barbados has implemented a number of commitments since 2007, including the establishment of the National Commission for CNCDs; continued support for the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, through the implementation of legislation banning smoking in public places and the ban on the sale of tobacco to minors; the establishment of the National Task Force on Physical Activity and Exercise; the development of guidelines for healthy foods in schools; and enhanced public education programmes, such as a salt reduction campaign.

In addition, there was the establishment of the Barbados National Registry; a 100% percent increase in taxes on tobacco; and our annual celebration of Caribbean Wellness Day on the second Saturday in September, in commemoration of that landmark Summit.

Most recently, the country appointed a Special Envoy for Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases, Professor Trevor Hassell, to champion the cause of NCDs and challenge key decision makers and opinion leaders to get involved in the response. He is also tasked with advising Government, through the Minister of Health, on an effective response to the outcomes of the United Nations High-Level Meeting on NCDs.

Despite these achievements, the Prime Minister noted, "the battle still rages on".?? He explained: "Daily we are reminded of the tremendous burden caused by non-communicable diseases such as, heart disease, hypertension, stroke, diabetes and cancer.?? For example, the Chronic Disease Research Centre (CDRC) reports that for Barbadians, aged 20 years and older, 38,000 are living with high blood pressure."

NCDs constitute the leading causes of death and illness in Barbados.?? These aforementioned diseases are caused by biological factors such as high blood pressure, obesity, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol.?? In turn, these are associated with lifestyle, socially determined risk factors, namely, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, tobacco use, life stresses and the harmful use of alcohol; and the lack of an environment that is supportive of healthy choices.

The aim of the recently-held Consultation was to heighten awareness of the impact of non-communicable diseases and highlight the goals and objectives of the UNHLM, while defining participants’ roles in contributing to, and facilitating prevention and control of NCDs in Barbados.

During the sessions, discussions centred on specific concerns tabled for the UNHLM and the need to obtain the requisite ???buy-in’ of key stakeholders to implement decisions thereafter.

The key goal of the United Nation???s High-Level Meeting is to increase funding and improve prevention and treatment of non-communicable diseases globally, with a special focus on development.?? Consideration will also be given to other challenges and social and economic impacts, particularly for developing countries like Barbados.


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