WITH global attention, at least over the past 15 months, focused on the response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, other health issues have seemingly taken a back seat.
Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which accounts for seven of the world's top 10 causes of deaths and kills approximately 41 million people annually — an estimated 71 per cent of all deaths globally — is one area that must remain at the forefront. Locally, NCDs, which include cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases, account for about 70 per cent of deaths.
The current pandemic has highlighted, both globally and locally, the link between NCDs and the outcome of those who contract the novel coronavirus. While giving a charge to experts and thought leaders in health care at a recent three-day Ministry of Health and Wellness-hosted NCD Programme Review Conference, portfolio Minister Dr Christopher Tufton pointed to the challenges faced by the country in dealing with these diseases during a pandemic.
“The COVID-19 experience has amply demonstrated that we must take measures to tackle the crisis of NCDs; data is very clear as to who are the most vulnerable. NCD has played a critical role in determining health outcomes for people who become infected with the virus, and clearly the evidence around obesity and co-morbidity and deaths related to COVID-19 is ample evidence of that challenge,” Dr Tufton said.
Also speaking at the event was the acting Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)/World Health Organization (WHO) representative for Jamaica, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, Dr Audrey Morris, who said PAHO cites NCDs as the number one cause of death and disability in the world.
“Amid the pandemic, people living with NCDs are more severely impacted by the virus,” Dr Morris said. “Now, more than ever, we have a responsibility to address the major risk factors, including unhealthy diets, tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, physical inactivity, as well as air pollution.”
Emphasising that PAHO has been working with Jamaica in relation to the labelling of food, cancer surveillance, its tobacco control law, and its chronic care model, she said there have been many developments since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in March 2020 and that PAHO recognises the strain being placed on the health sector and health workers.
“However, while we manage the pandemic response, losing ground in the fight against NCDs should not be an option,” Dr Morris insisted.
The Ministry of Health and Wellness, at least in recent weeks, appears to have NCDs front and centre and is committed to reducing its impact on Jamaicans. Along with the three-day conference — which presented an update on the state of NCD and injury response in the country, shared guidance on implementing NCD and injury risk factor interventions, and highlighted services that help to mitigate the impact of complications of NCDs and injuries — the Ministry of Health within the last two weeks announced the results from an assessment of fats in Jamaica food system and launched a knowledge, attitudes and practices study around salt consumption locally.
The Jamaica Observer — acknowledging that NCDs is a major challenge for sustainable development, according to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and recognising its inextricable link with COVID-19 — through its Your Health Your Wealth publication, decided to explore the connection between the two within the Jamaican context and the way forward.
Today, at 5:00 pm, four panellists will tackle the issue in a webinar moderated by public health and health technology specialist, Professor Winston Davidson, which will be streamed live on the Jamaica Observer's social media platforms and be available for playback on the newspaper's website. The four panellists are Dr Joy St John, executive director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency; Professor T Alafia Samuels, retired professor/research fellow, Caribbean Institute for Health Research at The University of the West Indies; national epidemiologist Dr Karen Webster-Kerr of the Ministry of Health and Wellness; and Dr Hamlet Nation, public health consultant and programme director at the University of Technology, Jamaica, School of Public Health.
It will be the second of three webinars exploring some of the issues that have so far come to the fore amid the pandemic and strategies for moving forward. The first webinar, which was on July 18 and a recording of which is available for playback at www.jamaicaobserver.com, looked at whether more countries in the Caribbean should explore vaccine development, like our neighbours in Cuba.
Be sure to tune in later today as the panellists share their views on the topic and chart the way forward.
Also, pay keen attention as there will be a giveaway courtesy of one of our sponsors, Guardian Group. The question will be based on the discussion, and the first person to submit the correct answer to us via e-mail to HealthandWealth@jamaicaobserver.com will be our winner.
Check out next week's Your Health Your Wealth section in the Sunday Observer to see who won the prize.