A data dashboard, displaying the explosion of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Barbados, similar to the COVID-19 dashboard produced by the Ministry of Health, was Thursday suggested by a medical expert.
Dr Kenneth Connell, Deputy Dean in the Faculty of Medicine at UWI Cave Hill, told the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s World Obesity Day Virtual Webinar the prevalence of lifestyle diseases should be displayed in simple, easy-to-understand formats if the country is ever to control the rise of the deadly illnesses.
The rise of NCDs, especially among the youth, over the last several years, warrants a change in the way health officials addressed the issue, similar to the way COVID-19 information is given daily via a dashboard, he suggested.
Dr Connell said: “We are data-driven organisms, we respond to data. Despite the excellent job that [Dr. Natasha Sobers] at the George Alleyne Chronic Research Center and the BNR (Barbados National Registry for Chronic Non-Communicable Disease) are doing in providing this data, it is not seen as urgent by the general public.
“Supposed you could look and see over a period of weeks to months, what is happening to the heart attack rate at the hospital, or the number of strokes presenting to the hospital, or what percentage of patients waiting in the often overcrowded emergency room, are heart failure. What if you can see this data, would that not send a message to say to us, this is not a problem that is slowly approaching, this is a problem that has exploded at our doorsteps.”
Dr Connell highlighted that one of the surprising effects of COVID-19 on societies the world over is the attention it has strongly placed on the scourge of NCDs, especially in the Caribbean.
With the response to COVID-19 being in stark contrast to the responses seen towards NCDs rates in Barbados, Dr Connell said it’s time for lessons to be learnt in trying to lead healthier lives.
“Take for instance our children – now we have removed them from the physical classrooms because it is no longer safe for them to be there; there is a virus out there that is claiming lives,” the medical professor said. “Now we can argue that another unsafe environment also existed long before COVID-19, where our children had access to unhealthy foods, lack of physical activity, [and] free access to drinking water. These were present within these same school systems that have now be heralded as totally unsafe.
“When we compare this to the reaction of the unsafe COVID environment, there are lessons to be learned from a pandemic.”
Dr Connell challenged Caribbean governments to seek ways in which they can seriously address the causes of NCDs, not merely with short-lived educational programmes but with robust public awareness campaigns and meaningful incentives to drive longstanding change.
He told the webinar: “I think that Caribbean governments must design urgent policies that are implemented in fixed time frames, such that the conversations shift from the usual sound bites of support and the need to correct problems to fixed timelines to do so. Continued education is important as a second point; we need to review what policies are already there, and aren’t working or working well and polices have to be agile and respond, as the situation changes.
“There needs to be a constructive national and regional plan, that we all can see a wide road map of what we are all aiming towards.” (SB)