JIS News

Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) Representative in Jamaica, Dr. Ernest Pate, said that countries of the western hemisphere, including the Caribbean, are undergoing an epidemiological transition, characterized by an increase in non-communicable diseases.
“The non-communicable disease rates are in fact overtaking the communicable disease rate in the region. The end result of this is that we are seeing many more cases of cardiovascular diseases, obesity, hypertension and significant disability from these chronic diseases. It is not a problem for the Caribbean region that we will see in the next 10 or 20 years, it is a problem that is already with us,” he stated.
Dr. Pate, who was speaking at the opening of a four-day regional workshop on child nutrition today (April 5) at the Planning Institute of Jamaica’s (PIOJ) Grenada Way offices in Kingston, noted that the ageing of the Caribbean population, further exacerbated the problem.
He noted that in several of the region’s countries, seven to 11 per cent of the population was over 65 years of age, which meant that life expectancy had increased significantly. Within the next five years, several countries will have more than 18 per cent of their population over 65 years, he stated.
“With this high increase in individuals over 65 years of age and our increasing incidents of chronic diseases, we will have a significant problem to confront,” he observed.
Coupled with this, Dr. Pate said, was the fact that this region of the Americas had the highest level of inequity in the world, where 80 per cent of the resources were actually consumed by one fifth of the population. “That is the highest level of inequity when you measure every other region globally,” he emphasized, stating that this has resulted in reduced levels of physical activity in many of the underprivileged in these populations.
In addition, he said, there was an increased transition to diets that were increasingly high in sugars, and saturated fats, but lower in fruits and vegetables, thereby exacerbating the region’s chronic disease problem.
“When we look at our population within Latin America and the Caribbean, these diet-related risk factors are seen to be increasing much more rapidly in that portion of the population that falls in that lower social economic segment,” Dr. Pate noted.
He said that, “if we hope to tackle some of these problems, it will require collaboration, not only among our countries in the region, particularly by collaboration from research agencies and agencies such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations agencies and also international developmental partners”.
Dr. Pate stated that such collaboration would have significant impact on the issues of nutrition, chronic diseases, and health in general.
Meanwhile, he said that PAHO welcomed the workshop, which was aimed at preparing projects to address child nutrition.
He informed that globally, there was an estimated 200 million children under five years of age, who were moderately to severely underweight, while 70 million children in the same age cohort, were severely malnourished.
“With this degree of moderate to severe underweight and the issue of malnutrition, we see quite significant decreases in physical and cognitive development in children globally,” Dr. Pate noted, adding that the problem also lowered resistance to many illnesses.
Globally, he told the group, which also included representatives from various ministries and non-governmental organisations, 40,000 children (under the age of five) died daily, with malnutrition being a significant contributor to this death rate.
“This amounts to greater than 14 million children dying before they reach the age of five, every year, in this world,” the PAHO Representative stated, pointing out that the deaths of children in such large numbers “translates into significant social and economic costs to any country. This is not something that any particular country can continue to have for any long period of time.”
Hosted jointly by the PIOJ and the IAEA, the regional workshop will examine programmes for the reduction of child malnutrition and obesity as well as childhood stunting, and evaluate previous interventions to address these issues.
Participating in the forum are representatives from Central and South American countries including Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Panama, Uruguay, Guatemala, Venezuela and Nicaragua. Jamaica, Haiti and Cuba, the only members of the Caribbean region that are members of the IAEA, are also represented.
In her remarks, Director of Sustainable Development and Regional Planning at the PIOJ, Claire Bernard, said that improving child nutrition had many positive implications. These, she said, included a positive impact on learning and productivity, improving the creativity of any nation and its people and therefore, their potential for success.
Topics to be covered over the four days include: the IAEA’s activities in human nutrition; the use of stable isotopes to assess body composition and energy, expenditures in children; and the World Health Organization strategy on infant and child feeding.