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The Ministry of Health is developing a strategic plan for the prevention and control of non- communicable diseases (NCDs).

The plan, which is in draft stage, will also address risk factors for these chronic conditions.

Portfolio Minister, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson, who made the disclosure on November 7 opening of the Faculty of Medical Sciences 21st Annual Research Conference and Workshop at the University of the West Indies’ Mona campus, said the move is in response to the increase in the number of persons being diagnosed with NCDs.

“This plan will focus on the period 2012/17 with national targets and indicators and has established a national non-communicable disease multi-sectoral committee on NCDs and this has been in place since December 2011,” Dr. Ferguson said.

He noted that the high incidence of NCDs in Jamaica, threatens the economic and social development of the country.

“NCDs are a disaster in slow motion. They are responsible for 56 per cent of deaths in Jamaica, 20 per cent of which are caused by cancers. Chronic non-communicable diseases, alone, cost the Ministry of Health over US$170 million to treat annually,” Dr. Ferguson said.

He noted that while the Ministry is committed to providing the level of care required, there is serious disparity in terms of the opportunity, cost of treating these avoidable illnesses and their complications.

According to the Health Minister, poverty exposes persons to the main risk factors for NCDs, which include unhealthy diet, tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol and physical inactivity. “This, in turn leads to the loss of household incomes due to unhealthy behaviours, physical status, and high health care cost,” he said.

He noted that the burden of NCDs also affects women, as many women are the main breadwinners and head of households and care for children and the elderly. They also care for partners that also have and suffer from NCDs, Dr. Ferguson said.

For her part, Director General at the Ministry of Finance and Planning, Dianne McIntosh noted that the total economic burden on individuals in Jamaica due to NCDs is estimated at $47 million per year.

“Therefore, a reasonable deduction in its simplistic form shows that we are becoming an unhealthy nation and will find it challenging to afford good health care. As such, we will need to concentrate our efforts on rebuilding a healthy population in Jamaica as an avenue to driving economic growth and development,” Miss McIntosh said.

A non-communicable disease is a medical condition which is non-infectious and non-transmissible between persons. They are referred to as lifestyle diseases, because the majority of these conditions are preventable. The most common causes include tobacco use (smoking), alcohol abuse, poor diets (high consumption of sugar, salt, saturated fats, and trans fatty acids) and physical inactivity.