JIS News

KINGSTON — Health Minister, Hon. Rudyard Spencer, says a multi-sectoral approach must be taken if the country is to effectively tackle the increasing levels of chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs), especially among young people.

The Minister noted that studies have shown that people are now developing NCDs at a younger age, taking the epidemic to even greater levels. He argued that this has also increased the economic burden on families and the government. “These diseases are now affecting persons in the most productive age groups, significantly impacting the social and economic development of countries,” he said.

What this means, the Minister argued, is that countries, particularly those within the Caribbean region, will have to take a corporate approach to fighting the epidemic.

The Minister was speaking at a meeting for the dissemination of a World Bank study on NCDs at the Wyndham Hotel in New Kingston, today (September 9). The meeting was organised by the Ministry of Health, the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO), World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Bank. 

Citing a number of initiatives that the government has embarked on over the years in an effort to curtail further increases in such diseases, Mr. Spencer said the Ministry of Health is committed to mobilising all members of society to deal with the issue.

He informed that in June of this year, the Ministry hosted a meeting involving members of the public and private sectors, as well as non-governmental organisations to garner support for the government’s position on NCDs.

The Minister said that a draft Tobacco Control/Smoke Free Environment Bill will be placed before Parliament soon for consideration. “We have been moving ahead with the implementation of our obligations under the WHO Framework Convention on tobacco control, even though it might have appeared that the finalisation of the formal instruments has been delayed,” he said.

The Ministry has completed phase one of the Primary Health Care Renewal Programme, which saw the rehabilitation of more than 45 health centres across the island at a cost of $300 million. “This has improved access to health services at the community level. We are seeking to shortly embark on phase two of this programme,” Mr. Spencer said.

He noted that the no-user fee policy, which was implemented in April 2008, has seen increased access to health care, including prevention and treatment of chronic diseases.

“This policy has prevented many from sliding down into poverty as a result of using their limited disposable income to finance their health,” he said.

The Minister said that the integration of the Health Corporation Limited into the National Health Fund, “will improve efficiencies to better provide pharmaceuticals to the most vulnerable in our society.” The NHF spent $2.4 billion for pharmaceuticals last year and the government has made available $3.5 billion in the budget this year, he noted.

Meanwhile,  Mr. Shaw said he would take careful note of the World Bank findings, especially as the country prepares to participate in the United Nations High Level meeting on chronic non-communicable diseases, scheduled for September 19 to 20 at the UN headquarters in New York.

He  thanked the World Bank for its dedicated service to low and middle income countries like Jamaica, and PAHO for its continued partnership with the Ministry. “The World Bank must be commended for providing us with the empirical data that we need to better formulate policies and strategies to curtail the prevalence of non-communicable diseases,” the Minister said.

In her presentation, Word Bank Senior Economist, Shiyan Chao, noted that the main objectives of the agency’s study, entitled ‘Non-communicable Diseases in Jamaica: Moving From Perspective to Prevention’, are to learn from Jamaica’s experience in tackling NCDs and related risk factors; to provide policy options for Jamaica to improve its NCD programmes; and to share with other countries the lessons learned from the experience.

She said the study attempted to answer three questions: whether the NHF and its drug subsidy programme have reduced out-of-pocket spending on NCDs; whether access to treatment of NCDs has improved; and what is the economic burden on NCD patients and their families.

The final report, according to Dr. Chao, provides an overall picture of the epidemiological and demographic transitions in Jamaica, its current burden of NCDs, and the change in the trend of NCDs in the past decade, using publicly available data, particularly data from the Jamaica Living Condition Household Surveys. It also assesses the risk factors and analyses Jamaica’s response to NCDs, with emphasis on the impact of the NHF on people’s lives. Estimates of the economic burden of NCDs are provided and policy options to improve Jamaica’s NCD programmes are suggested.


By Athaliah Reynolds, JIS Reporter

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