A regional health expert has explained that the spate of sudden deaths is not unique to Barbados, as other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries suffer from similar high rates of the lifestyle illnesses that lead to premature deaths.
The issue has generated widespread attention as an unusually high number of people pass away in very public places, including at work and on the road.
The most recent example was on Tuesday when 69-year-old Shelmar Jones collapsed and died while riding his bicycle near Graeme Hall on the ABC Highway.
Barbadians have speculated on the cause of these premature deaths, prompting Chief Medical Officer Dr Kenneth George to explain that non-communicable diseases (NCDs)were responsible for the 24 sudden deaths between late January and mid-June. There were 21 such deaths during the corresponding period last year.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY Thursday, advisor on non-communicable diseases and mental health at the Barbados office of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) Dr Tomo Kanda explained that NCDs were prevalent across the Caribbean and were responsible for more lives than any other disease.
“Non-communicable diseases – cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and respiratory diseases, those are the major causes of deaths in Barbados . . . not only in Barbados but in CARICOM countries in general,” Dr Kanda noted.
The PAHO/WHO official did not provide comparative figures, but she said, “premature mortality because of NCDs – meaning people dying aged between 30 and 70 because of non-communicable diseases – is still high” across the region.
The authorities here believe the extensive coverage of these deaths on both social and traditional media has made it appear that the issue is strictly a local one.
Dr Kanda said persons who died from NCDs would have been harbouring conditions that resulted in their passing.
“Non-communicable diseases are . . . a chronic condition and at some point you develop risks signals – raised blood pressure, raised blood glucose, or obesity.
“The individual must know those signs, and if you properly manage those risk factors, it can be preventable,” she stressed.
The regional health official said people needed to do a better job at managing their lifestyles and adopting healthier eating habits.
However, Dr Kanda acknowledged that the cost of healthy foods could sometimes be prohibitive.
“It is not medication only, but also how we can empower people living with condition with self-management skills
. . . .We provide guidance only on how an individuals should be eating healthy, however this kind of approach itself is not enough. In order to access healthy food, which is quite costlier than unhealthy food, consider the environment, how people can have access to affordable food,” she said.