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Acting Chief Executive Officer (CEO), National Health Fund (NHF), Benjamin Waysome, says the increase in chronic lifestyle diseases continue to cost the agency billions of dollars each year, with a majority of its members being treated for at least three separate conditions.

Mr. Waysome informed that a review of statistics from the NHF's individual benefits programme reveal that, on average, each member enrolled is treated for about three separate chronic illnesses. "Among these, hypertension is the most common, followed by arthritis, high cholesterol and diabetes,” he added.

The CEO was speaking at the launch of Caribbean Wellness Day, held at the Ministry of Health’s downtown Kingston offices, on September 3. 

He further revealed that the NHF enrolment data has shown that in 2005, some 65 per cent of diabetics enrolled with the NHF had other conditions. “Six years later, in 2011, that number has increased to 79 per cent, which is a worrying trend,” he lamented.

It was also shown that in the financial year ending March 31, the NHF paid out over $2.8 billion for drug subsidies. The increase in chronic illnesses is expected to continue its steep rise and so too the drug bill, the NHF CEO noted.

"Over the years, we have seen the drug bill for individual benefits climb significantly. Some of this, of course, is attributed to our very rigorous campaign to increase enrolment as well as the fact that we subsidise the cost of drugs to 45 per cent of the retail costs,” he explained.

He is suggesting that a multi-sectoral approach is critical in the fight against what has now become an epidemic. He said it is important to educate young people about the benefits of adopting healthy lifestyle habits before it is too late.

The CEO said the NHF is willing to support any initiative or any effort that is aimed at emphasising prevention through education.

Mr. Waysome noted that the agency has been an avid supporter of the Caribbean Wellness Day since its inception.Caribbean Wellness Day 2012 will be observed on September 8, under the theme: ‘Healthy Schools make Healthy Communities that build Healthy Countries’, and is being organised in partnership with the Ministries of Health and Education and the NHF.

The focus this year is on the nation’s youth, in an effort to encourage them to live healthy lives. This will be supported by the ‘Health Promoting Schools Initiative’, which is geared towards empowering schools to facilitate healthy choices and the development of healthy behaviour from a young age.