It was heartening to hear the Minister of Health, in his Budget address place emphasis on the continuing efforts to combat the spread of Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) as vital to the health of the nation.
These diseases, often described as lifestyle diseases since they are not spread by contact among people, have the dubious honour of being the biggest killers of human beings the world over.
Falling in four main categories – cardiovascular (heart) diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes, the NCDs account for the deaths of 41 million people globally each year, with 17 million of them considered premature, occurring before the age of 70.
Significantly for us, 86 percent of these occur in developing countries like ours, and many Caribbean countries. St Vincent and the Grenadines, among them, are among the most affected.
Health authorities throughout the region, have been reacting with alarm at the growing threat and more and more emphasis is being placed on this ongoing battle. For some, maybe even many, the threat is seen as one to be combated by increasing expenditure on this vital area of our health services. As necessary as this is, however, the matter is much bigger than this.
It would be a mistake to think that mere increased allocations would solve the problem. So great is the threat that even children today are becoming obese and diabetic. This tells us that our efforts must be all- encompassing and involve every strata of our society, literally from the cradle, in order to avoid premature departures for the grave. Thus, it is not just a challenge before the Ministry of Health, though to be sure, it must take a lead role.
Nothing else but a national mobilization campaign, involving all strata- and with the Ministries of National Mobilization, Education, Youth, Sports and Information- all also actively involved, will do. In particular, emphasis must be placed on the young, their lifestyles and diets, meaning that both the schools curriculum as well as extra-curricula activities must be given high priority.
The encouragement and facilitation of student councils, support for the revival of youth and community groups, as distinct from the “reorganization” from above, must all become part of the agenda. Churches can play a great part in this as must our two political parties. They cannot just confine their efforts to mobilize for electoral purposes, it is in their best interests to have an informed, educated and healthy population.
The message must be rung out loud and clear for the threat is growing. When we hear the horn for the anti- NCDs boat, we must answer positively with ALL ABOARD.