Chronic diseases claim about 3 million lives around the world each year and low and middle income countries like Jamaica are primarily affected. This is why I am pleased to take this opportunity to put diabetes in the spotlight as one of the Chronic Non-Communicable diseases that we need to take more seriously. We in the Caribbean, collectively and individually have been forced to look at more in-depth and targeted strategies to reduce the prevalence and incidence of these diseases because of the negative impact they are having on the health of the populations and, by extension, the development of our countries.
The concerns and commitment of policy-makers in the sub-region with regard to these conditions have been encapsulated in the 2007 Port of Spain Declaration in an effort to reduce the burden of the chronic non-communicable diseases in the region. Diabetes is at the top of that list. In fact the World Health Organization estimates that the number of people with diabetes worldwide could double to 260 million by 2030, with diabetes deaths likely to increase by more that 50% in the next 10 years, if action is not taken to reverse this trend.
In Jamaica the proportion of patients admitted to hospital for diabetes stands at an average of 2.2%. This is significant when compared to other illnesses such as hypertension (1.6%), heart disease (0.2%) and stroke (1.6%). It is clear then by these figures that compared with these other illnesses, a significant portion of the health budget is channeled into treating diabetes. We have experienced an increase in the number of health centre visits for patients with both diabetes and hypertension since 2003 when the figure was 60,595, to 2007 when it increased to 67,679.
According to the 2008 Healthy Lifestyle Survey, there are approximately 150,000 Jamaicans with diabetes presently and that number is increasing. This will have serious implications for individuals, families, communities, the health sector and our economy. Last year for example, the government spent US$170 million on the treatment of chronic diseases including diabetes.
We now, more than ever, have to find ways to reduce the prevalence and incidence of these diseases and the burden that they place on the health system. Health care has been made more accessible to all through the abolition of user fees but we should not have to put so much of our resources into treating illnesses that can be prevented and controlled by living a healthier lifestyle and through better self-management. We are therefore making a concerted effort to focus more resources on educating and empowering our population to increase effective actions and change habits and behaviors towards maintenance of good health and daily self-care of chronic diseases, where appropriate. The aim is to prevent the development of diabetes and other chronic diseases and also to ensure the proper management and control of these illnesses for those who already have them.
The Ministry of Health has consistently been working with many partners such as the Pan American Health Organization and the Diabetes Association of Jamaica to achieve this through health promotion and education strategies. I am happy to emphasize these points during the observance of Diabetes Awareness Month, National Diabetes Week and World Diabetes Day. As the theme suggests: “Beat it – Beat Diabetes with Self Management”, we urge persons to take control of their health. We have to take swift action to ensure that we have a meaningful reduction in the burden of this illness.
A reduction in diabetes and other chronic non-communicable diseases will result in numerous benefits including a better health status and quality of life for the population, more stable families and communities and a more productive economy, which means increased development for the country. I cannot emphasize more the correlation between a healthy people and a more developed society with higher productivity levels.
My appeal this week is for all of us, health practitioners, policy makers and the general public to pay special attention to the messages of prevention, management and control that are especially geared towards reducing the burden of diabetes and its complications that we have to treat. Our effort in this area will also help to reduce the levels of other chronic non-communicable diseases.

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