Tufton calls for stronger focus on tackling NCDs in small island states

Jamaica’s Minister of Health & Wellness, Dr Christopher Tufton has challenged multilateral stakeholders, including the World Bank, to give greater attention to the health imperative in economic modelling, as small island developing states (SIDS) face the growing problem of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and early death.

“There needs to be a much more broad-based conversation around health and not just from a clinical perspective, but from an economic modelling perspective and from a quality-of-life perspective,” he said, speaking at the SIDS Ministerial Conference on NCDs and Mental Health in Barbados on June 14.

SIDS are among the countries with the highest estimated risk of dying prematurely from any of the four main NCDs, notably cardiovascular disease, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes.

Tufton told his audience of health ministers, civil society and multilateral partners that in many instances, entities such as the World Bank have more influence on development issues with ministers of finance and governments than do ministers of health. He urged the bank to use its influence to drive policies to stem the rise in NCDs and for better health outcomes at the country level.

“With the burgeoning NCDs problem, premature death will increase and have a negative impact, not only on the longevity of life but also on the quality of life and the labour force. It is going to be debilitating to our economies and indeed the world if we do not cauterise it,” he stated.

Tufton predicted that failure to collaboratively engage in scaled-up actions to tackle NCDs and mental health – including in the area of research – could compromise human development and especially in SIDS that are already vulnerable to the prevailing triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature loss and pollution, which all impact human health.

According the health and wellness minister, the NCDs problem must be tackled as a matter of urgency and should include the mobilisation of international partners to support needed interventions that meet people where they are.

“We have advanced and celebrated progress as a world and left human quality of life behind. We see technology, but people are not necessarily having or enjoying quality of life because of ill-health. That is a problem, and we need to reconcile that,” he said.

Tufton noted that making information readily available to people for better decision-making about their health is an important part of that effort – as is consideration of what it will take to give SIDS greater influence over the global commodity chain and what that means for their nutrition, including as it relates to front-of-package labelling and the elimination of trans-fats from the food system.

“We are import-dependent as small countries. The issue is how do we influence or impact the global commodity chain so that we can have greater decisions about what is accessible to our people,” said Tufton.

He said equally important are policy and legislative provisions – such as Jamaica’s own National School Nutrition Policy now being progressed – that help to create the enabling environment for a decline in the NCDs numbers and premature mortality.

Currently in Jamaica, one in three people, has hypertension while one in eight has diabetes and one in two is overweight or obese.

The SIDS Ministerial Conference which ended on Friday, was organised by the World Health Organisation and its regional associate, the Pan-American Health Organisation.

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