PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago, Wednesday February 24, 2016 – The regional response to the grave threat posed by noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) must be intensified immediately if the health, wellbeing and development gains of Caribbean people are to be protected.
That was the key message emerging this morning from the opening ceremony of a major regional workshop in Port of Spain, which has brought together ministers, academics, experts and activists from 14 Caribbean countries to review the results of an expert evaluation of the landmark 2007 CARICOM Port of Spain Declaration on NCDs. An action plan will also be developed.
NCDs, such as heart attack, stroke, diabetes and cancer, are taking a heavy toll on the population in the region. In some countries, 80 per cent of adults are overweight or obese, more than half have high blood pressure and 25 per cent are diabetic.
Addressing the gathering at the Hilton Hotel, Trinidad and Tobago’s Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh spoke passionately about his own experience.
“I am a ‘poster boy’ for diabetes,” He said. “I belong to the Asian racial grouping and have a predisposition for diabetes. Genetics will tell me my parents were diabetics and suffered horrendous deaths due to complications of diabetes. I can’t help that. But what I can change is what I eat, how I exercise and how I live my life,” he said.
According to Dr Alafia Samuels, Director of the Chronic Disease Research Centre and Chair of the opening ceremony for the two-day workshop, the action plan emerging from the workshop would enable people to make these healthy choices and changes.
“We need to set priorities together; we need to make recommendations and monitor what we are doing to see the impact of our programmes. Have we reduced high blood pressure? Have we stopped the increase in diabetes? Are there fewer people dying prematurely from NCDs?” she said.
The importance of a multisectoral response, bringing everyone together to tackle NCDs, was reinforced by Jessie Schutt-Aine of the Pan American Health Organization, who stressed that “we need a whole-of-government and a whole-of-society approach, bringing together trade, agriculture, the food industry, health, education and other sectors. We need civil society, schools, churches: the entire community working together towards this common goal.”
Funded by the Canadian International Development Research Council (IDRC), the Port of Spain Declaration evaluation has been led by the University of the West Indies on behalf of CARICOM and PAHO.
Dr Zee Leung of IDRC told the meeting that he was “very proud of the work the evaluation team is doing. A lot has been accomplished and a rich body of evidence will be discussed over the next few days.”
During the course of the workshop, participants will explore a range of issues surrounding the Port of Spain Declaration’s 27 ambitious commitments. Specific working groups will examine such areas as diet, food and food security; reducing alcohol-related harm; tobacco control; physical activity and the built environment; promoting health in specific settings like workplaces and schools; financing NCD prevention and control; and advocacy and communication.