Positive health interventions have resulted in a lengthening of the life-span of our population. Life expectancy at birth in the 1940s was 52.9; today it is 71.5 for males and 75 for females in an ageing population that is growing at a faster pace than the other segments of the population.
It is fitting that the theme for World Health Day this year is “aging and health” as it has become imperative for countries of the world to pay greater attention to the health needs of the aged in society. A recent World Bank Report advises countries and communities to “develop a number of policies that support long, productive lives for their workers and keep older people healthy and mobile for as long as possible."
The elderly population is challenged by health issues such as the increasing incidence of chronic non communicable diseases. These diseases are responsible for two thirds of deaths in persons over age 60 worldwide, 77 percent in developing countries and 56 percent of deaths in Jamaica. According to the 2008 Jamaica Health and Lifestyle survey “there is a high frequency of familial history of chronic diseases in Jamaica. Fifty percent of Jamaicans have a parent or grandparent with hypertension, one thirds with diabetes and a little less than one fifth report a family history of stroke or cancer."
We have to combat this culture of chronic non communicable diseases and ensure that the elderly are given the requisite care and opportunity to continue to live long healthy lives. Like all other citizens of this country, older persons have a right to accessible and affordable health care. To achieve this we must provide adequate primary health care services. Jamaica has made significant investments in this area and we continue to make the renewal of primary health care a priority.
We will maintain an emphasis on the need for a shift in lifestyle practices to healthier options such as increased physical activity, a healthy diet which consists of fruits and vegetables, and a cessation of tobacco smoking. I want to also remind all Jamaicans that a society is judged by how it treats children and the elderly and urge everyone to take good care of the older persons in our society.
Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson
Minister of Health