As Barbados faces up to the reality of the social and economic impact of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) on the country, Minister of Health John Boyce today issued a call for all sectors to get on board with efforts to address the problem.
Addressing a consultation on healthy eating, he acknowledged that tackling NCDs is not a simple matter, but he is aware of the influence of trade policies, cultural practices, economic factors, and family dynamics on the development of unhealthy lifestyles.
“So, decisions taken in other sectors have an enormous influence on the adoption of healthy lifestyles generally. This includes what prices are negotiated and set, the marketing and consequent desire for high-fat, salty and sugary foods, and access to an environment that is supportive of healthy choices.
“Increasingly, we’ve come to accept the attainment of good health and wellness is just as much an issue that is related to policies in trade, agriculture, education, foreign affairs, as it is a concern to the Ministry of Health itself,” Boyce said.
He added that if careful attention is not given to policymaking, decisions in these sectors can have “a powerful negative effect” on the health of the nation.
“For a long time, the health sector has been carrying the burden of these diseases and advocating for behaviour change in order to bring about healthier outcomes. However, the time has come for all sectors to get involved in addressing non-communicable diseases and their risk factors, recognizing their own role and responsibility for the health of the nation.
“Each sector in government and in the society contributes to the health and wellbeing of the nation in its own unique way. Perhaps we in the health sector have not been as clear or as consistent in pointing out the areas where intervention is necessary or the actions which should be taken,” Boyce said.
Indeed, the figures are alarming. Chief Medical Officer Dr Joy St John reported that 80 per cent of Barbadians have at least one risk factor for NCDs, while one-third of adults are being managed for at least one NCD. Persons suffering from such illnesses occupy 60 per cent of the beds at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. There are also 200 diabetes-related amputations being performed annually.
According to Dr St John, health officials spent 1.3 per cent of the total Gross Domestic Product in 2013 on cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancers, endocrine and metabolic diseases, and respiratory diseases. This figure does not include private health spend and non-health sector spend.
“In 2015, direct costs to Government were $49 million for CVD, $24.5 million for cancer, $21 million for chronic respiratory diseases and $15 million for diabetes. The 2015 indirect costs, including decreased productivity and employee losses, were estimated for CVD and diabetes at $72 and $73 million respectively,” Dr St John reported.
Chairman of the National NCD Commission, Professor Sir Trevor Hassell, told participants at today’s discussion that the importance of effectively addressing “the obesity epidemic that is plaguing Barbados” cannot be overstated.
“The reality is that links between what we eat and NCDs – specifically the high intake of energy-dense, high-calorie food contributing to obesity, which in turn leads to heart disease and stroke and all the other illnesses – and the contribution of high salt intake to hypertension, which is a leading cause of heart disease and stroke . . . these contributions and linkages are well known,” he said.
Minister Boyce, meanwhile, pointed to some initiatives in the government’s efforts to curb the rise of NCDs, including the imposition of a 10 per cent tax on sugar-sweetened beverages to discourage the consumption of those drinks.
Boyce noted that his ministry is currently drawing up new policies to present to Cabinet to promote healthy lifestyles.