Minister of Health, John Boyce, has disclosed that his Ministry will soon be seeking the approval of Cabinet to initiate a national debate on health care financing.

Speaking at the launch of the Strategic Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases 2015 to 2019 at the Savannah Hotel today, Mr. Boyce noted the challenge placed on Government???s resources and expenditure by non-communicable diseases (NCDs), as well as new and emerging threats like Ebola, chikungunya and climate change.

He said: ???The Ministry of Health is in the process of exploring options for more efficient methods of financing health care, which will call for more effective use of scarce resources, elimination of wastage and duplication, and understanding which services are best provided by Government and which services are best provided within the private sector.???

The Health Minister said that Government???s commitment will always be to protect the most vulnerable within the society including the poor, the elderly and children, through the provision of quality health care services.

Quoting from the report of the Chief Medical Officer, Mr. Boyce revealed that the leading causes of sickness and death in Barbados in the last 10 years were stroke, heart disease, diabetes mellitus and cancer. Eighty percent of non-maternal health and non-child health visits at polyclinics were due to non-communicable diseases.

This, he said, represented a paradigm shift in the disease and epidemiological profile of Barbados from the pre-Independence period when poor sanitation, malnutrition and communicable diseases were the leading contributors to ill health and death.

Today, one-quarter of all Barbadians has at least one non-communicable disease and another one-quarter is at risk of developing one. This equates to 140,000 Barbadians either having or at risk of developing a non-communicable disease in the near future, Mr. Boyce stated.

The statistics further revealed that 65 per cent of the population was overweight or obese, with women twice more likely to fall into this category than men. According to the Health of the Nation Study 2012, 18 per cent of the population has diabetes mellitus, representing a two percentage point increase since 2007, and 25 per cent of the population has been diagnosed with hypertension.

The Health Minister also expressed concern about statistics for the school-aged population, which revealed that one-third of these children were either overweight or obese; 85 per cent were not achieving the recommended five servings of fruit and vegetables a day; and one-third were eating meals prepared outside the home frequently. In addition, 50 per cent of them were engaged in low levels of physical activity and exercise.

???Many of the behavioural and biological risk factors for NCDs are initiated in the very young and in childhood. Therefore our efforts must also target this vulnerable group if Barbados is to achieve the targets of 25 per cent reduction in premature mortality by 2025,??? Mr. Boyce declared.

He reminded Barbadians that while Government had the responsibility to create a supportive and enabling environment for the prevention and control of NCDs, every Barbadian had an important role to play in reversing the current trends.

???The NCD epidemic has the potential to reverse many of the social, economic and public health gains made by Barbados since Independence, and I therefore challenge all Barbadians to become more disciplined in our approach to the way we live, work and play.

???Let us today recommit ourselves as a nation to adopting healthy lifestyles that include daily exercise; using locally produced fruit and vegetables; consuming less salt, sugar, fat and foods which are high in cholesterol; moderating the use of alcohol; and abstaining from the use of all tobacco products.???

Minister Boyce received his official copy of the Strategic Plan from Chairman of the National NCD Commission, Professor Sir Trevor Hassell.

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