Published On: Tue, Jul 11th, 2017

CARICOM leaders make new commitment to tackle NCDs

caricom-headsST GEORGE’S - The push for a healthier Caribbean received a considerable boost last week as Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders at their 38th annual summit in Grenada made new commitments to tackle the epidemic of chronic diseases which is costing the region dearly in terms of health and development.

In a session devoted to action against non-communicable diseases (NCDs), the leaders discussed a raft of measures to declare the Caribbean a tobacco-free zone by 2022 in accordance with the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which most CARICOM countries have signed and ratified but have been slow to implement.

In addition, CARICOM heads have decided to look closely at several measures, in particular taxation and education, to try to change dietary practices. They also expressed a commitment to fight childhood obesity.

“We have issued a statement reiterating our determination to curb the ravages of these diseases through legislation and intensified public education activities. We simply cannot afford to continue the lifestyle and food consumption patterns that are literally killing us,” CARICOM Chairman and host Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell said.

Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness said some very good recommendations were made and all the heads agree that they would put their best efforts to implement them, particularly as they relate to smoking and tobacco use; consumption of sugar and salt; exercise; and leading a generally healthy lifestyle.

The leaders requested the establishment of standards for salt, sugar and trans fats in food, which would mean working with technical institutions like the Caribbean Regional Organization for Standards and Quality (CROSQ) to ensure that standards can be developed and agreed on and then put into law in individual countries.

There will also be a concerted effort to look at the drivers of obesity and to use public education programs to improve diets.

The commitments have particular resonance this year which marks the 10th anniversary of the CARICOM leaders signing of the landmark Port of Spain Declaration on NCDs.

In 2007, the Caribbean led the world in convening the very first conference of Heads of Government on NCDs which in turn paved the way for the United Nations High-level Meeting on NCDs in 2011.

According to Dr Alafia Samuels, who led a wide-ranging evaluation of the original Port of Spain Declaration, the need to address diet in the region is paramount.

CARICOM Secretary-General Irwin Larocque said some estimates suggest that NCDs cost the region anywhere between two and five percent of GDP.

“So, while it has an impact on an individual’s health, it also has an impact on the state and its ability to provide support for those suffering from NCDs,” he said.

Dr Rudy Cummings, CARICOM’s Program Manager, Health Sector, believes the steps taken at the conference are important.

“I think this is a significant mandate from heads because they have identified very specific issues which need to be tackled in order to move forward and which are, in fact, the current measures that have been taken in other countries in terms of curbing these problems.”

During the session discussing NCDs, the heads were addressed by Mike Bloomberg, World Health Organization Global Ambassador for NCDs, who announced that Bloomberg Philanthropies will be expanding its obesity prevention programs into Barbados and Jamaica.

Photo: CARICOM leaders at their 38th Annual Summit in Grenada last week.

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