The government is putting several strategies in place to tackle non-communicable diseases (NCDs), also called lifestyle illnesses.
These conditions are responsible for the majority of deaths locally, and are also putting a strain on the public purse, costing the government billions of dollars per year to provide treatment.
According to Health Minister, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson, chronic conditions such as heart and circulatory diseases, stroke, cancers, diabetes and respiratory illnesses are still the leading causes of death in Jamaica, with more than 50 per cent of all deaths linked to these conditions.
He noted further that it’s costing the Government some $14.8 billion (US$170 million) to treat these conditions annually, and “while the Ministry is committed to providing the level of care required, there is serious disparity in terms of the…cost of treating these avoidable illnesses and their complications."
Addressing the opening of the Jamaica Association of Professionals in Nutrition and Dietetics (JAPINAD) 10th anniversary conference at the Wyndham Kingston hotel on May 9, Dr. Ferguson said that among the measures being put in place to address the situation is the implementation of a project to strengthen the national surveillance system for NCDs.
The project is being undertaken in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), with funding from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
In addition, he said, a national strategic plan for the prevention and control of NCDs has been drafted, while a diabetes quality of care improvement project has been implemented in seven government health centres and at the Diabetes Association of Jamaica clinic in collaboration with PAHO.
He further informed that a Cabinet submission is to be made recommending that a national multi-sectoral committee on NCDs, which has been in place since December 15, 2011, to become a national commission.
Citing recent figures, which show the extent of the problem, the Minister informed that hypertension, which is related particularly to diets high in salt and fat, now has a prevalence rate of approximately 25.2 per cent and diabetes, which is also linked to diet, is at some 7.2 per cent. He noted that obesity now stands at a whopping 51.7 per cent with women being the main victims, while heart disease, cancer, and diabetes now account for approximately 56 per cent of the total disease burden.
The Health Minister said that with a stringent demand on the health budget, it is essential that as a country, we move towards reducing the spending on illnesses that can be avoided by making the right dietary and behavioural choices.
He said that recent lifestyle surveys indicate that the majority of Jamaicans are engaged in little or no physical activity, especially women.
“This epidemic must not be allowed to take over lives and communities, but must be reversed by consistently practising healthy lifestyles – healthy eating, regular physical activity, no smoking, responsible consumption of alcohol and safe sexual practises,” he said.
“We must, as Jamaicans, embrace a culture of healthy living. We need to get more active. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week,” he implored.
The three-day JAPINA conference is being held under the theme: ‘Nutrition Linkages – Impacting Development from Nationhood to Global Prominence’.
By Alecia Smith-Edwards, JIS Reporter