Government launching ‘Wellness Revolution’
Front Page
September 21, 2007

Government launching ‘Wellness Revolution’

If he thinks he faced opposition to the education revolution, this country’s Prime Minister may well be in for his stiffest battle yet – launching what he calls a “wellness revolution”, and he knows it.{{more}}

“It is not going to be easy. I am under no illusion that it is going to be easy, but we have to begin somewhere,” Dr Gonsalves declared.

Dr Gonsalves was fresh back from the just concluded CARICOM heads’ health summit on Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases (CNCDs) in Trinidad, and said he was determined to pioneer a drastic change towards a healthier country.

When the heads of Government met, they agreed to a broad framework which will be overseen by a taskforce, headed by UWI chancellor Sir George Alleyne.

Included in the 14 point declaration is a the decision to pass legislations which will prevent smoking in public places, the re-introduction of physical education in all schools, the proper labeling of foods, a commitment to promote policies and actions aimed at increasing physical activity as a vehicle for improving the health of the population, and the establishment of national commissions to drive the comprehensive prevention and control of CNCDs.

Dr Gonsalves said that CNCDs are costing St Vincent and the Grenadines an estimated US$15 million annually, and nothing short of a revolution would do.

Putting it into perspective, Dr Gonsalves said that the amount that CNCDs are estimated to cost this country, directly and indirectly, is close to the amount which represents recurrent expenditure on health. The recurring health expenditure in the last budget was EC$50 million.

As he highlighted the plan to impose high taxes on alcohol and tobacco products, Dr Gonsalves also indicated the possibility of an excise tax being placed on “unhealthy foods”, noting that the price of fast food items could be on the way up.

He noted that this increased taxing could also affect soft drink products, which he said are simply too sweet.

“I am not looking to cut down the breadfruit tree of the soft drink manufacturers, but the fact of the matter is, if you are producing the substance, that we now see is a major contributing factor to ill health, surely, we should make it more difficult for you in that regard,” said Dr Gonsalves.

Conversely, prices of fruits, vegetables, and other healthy food products can see tax breaks coming their way.

“Just as we tax the items higher that are bad, we have to give relief on those items that are good, to make them cheaper,” said Dr Gonsalves.

He said that he had a preliminary discussion with the Director General of Finance and Planning, indicating the need for a comprehensive package of policies, including a special fiscal regime to propel the “Wellness Revolution.”

Dr Gonsalves also said that as part of the overall drive to cut down the impact of CNCDs, sporting equipment may also receive tax breaks, and fiscal encouragement would be given to the private sector for the establishment of more gyms and “wellness centres”.

“Too many lives are cut short in an untimely fashion. Too much pain and anguish being endured,” Dr Gonsalves.

Dr Gonsalves, who himself confessed that he was overweight and needed to address his own health, said that the problem of the epidemic of CNCDs is a ‘symptom of our developed paradigm, both individually and socially, gone awry.”

“We have to begin an urgent conversation on that matter,” he said. CARICOM has declared the 2nd Saturday in September Caribbean Wellness Day.