Barbados and most of the other 14 members of CARICOM are unsure of the impact poor health among staff has on the profitability of companies because no study is tailor-made for our dominant service industries.
This is the view of University of the West Indies Chancellor Emeritus, Sir George Alleyne, who recently spoke of a large extra-regional study that looked at private sector interest in non-communicable diseases which “showed that the majority of managers are unaware of the magnitude of the problem,” but complained that in the Caribbean there is no such scientific survey.
Sir George made the observation earlier this month following his delivery of a UWI 70th anniversary lecture on The Perception and Place of Health in Caribbean Integration.
In his presentation, Sir George contended that while CARICOM celebrates the decrease in mortality across the region, more attention should be paid to the state of health of those who survived and are living with diseases, as this has an impact on human capital, the essential factor towards regional integration.
Speaking from the floor, Sir Trevor Hassell, Healthy Caribbean Coalition president and Barbados’ special envoy on non-communicable diseases, asked: “What is the role of the private business sector in this whole exercise that we’re discussing, and perhaps with particular reference to chronic diseases?… Because after all, this is a critical part of the Caribbean experience”.
Sir George, a two-term director of the Pan-American Health Organisation said, “The majority of [private enterprise] managers – and I would doubt Barbados is any different – has a superficial idea… [about] the magnitude of the problem and what they can do about it. The majority are not aware.”
He said it’s the same for Barbados and many regional nations: “There is a lack of fundamental knowledge about the extent to which non-communicable disease affects their human capital and their bottom-line.”
He added: “There are some studies done on absenteeism and presentism in some industries but not in the kind of industries which are common in Barbados. I don’t know any studies for example in the tourist industry. I know of studies in the manufacturing industry, to show that impairment of the quality of that human capital really affects their bottom line.”
Dr Alleyne, who retired as UWI Chancellor in 2017 after serving 14 years in the post, said, “One of the difficulties you would have in Barbados in mounting a study… is how to frame the study.”
He suggested that a way of getting private enterprise involved in measuring the impact of NCDs on human capital is to tell the business sector, “not so much your stock of human capital but your quality of human capital is being eroded by NCDs. How do you put a dollar value to the impairment of that stock?”
Sir George said that UWI health academics should take some of the blame for this lack of interest by private enterprise.
“Much of the discourse about chronic diseases has [been on only] mortality, mortal reduction. People die early, so obviously that’s a reduction in the quantum of your human capital,” he said, but added, “what we don’t often stress is the disability through the life course and the impact that it has on the productivity of that human capital”.
Dr Alleyne said, “We talk about 57 million people [worldwide] who died last year of chronic diseases, why don’t we talk about the four billion people who are living with NCDs? One-point-four billion people live with hypertension in the world. It is the world’s commonest disease. Five-and-a-half billion people in the world have diabetes.”
He lamented, “Often we don’t talk about these things. We concentrate so much on people…[dying]. Not that it is not important to speak about people dying; I think we have to add to the narrative and talk about this [living with disease] aspect of it as well”.