CONFERENCE ON NCDS, MENTAL HEALTH ENDS WITH AGREEMENT ON WAY FORWARD
By Marlon Madden
Barbados and other small island developing states (SIDS) member countries have agreed to accelerated action plans to tackle non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and issues relating to mental health.
The 2023 Bridgetown Declaration on NCDs and Mental Health was launched on Thursday, at the end of the 2023 SIDS Ministerial Conference on NCDs and Mental Health held at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.
The document, which outlines several priority areas designed to enhance SIDS’ capacity and resilience, is accompanied by two annexes which further outline actions to be taken by member countries in line with their national priorities.
Countries are encouraged to report their progress in 2025.
During a media briefing to announce the launch of the document, Minister of Health and Wellness Dr The Honourable Jerome Walcott described the three-day meeting as a successful one, while indicating that countries have agreed on several priority areas.
“These included the need to have accelerated action on some of the NCD issues, especially to look at reducing the mortality in SIDS from NCDs; we looked at the issue of climate and how it affects our ability to manage NCDs in our countries; we looked at the social and commercial determinants; we had a special session on mental health,” said Walcott.
“In the end, I think we have a good outcome document in the Bridgetown Declaration which speaks to the need for accelerated action in a number of areas, recognising that it is a declaration with solutions and plans, developed by SIDS,” he said, adding that it also called for small island states to “speak with a unified voice” on the issues.
The declaration calls for the reduction of premature mortality from NCDS by one-third, through prevention and treatment and promotion of mental health and well-being; the building of better resilience and strengthening of monitoring and prevention systems, reducing vulnerability, raising awareness, improving emergency preparedness and response, investing in multi-hazard risk reduction, and addressing the underlying social, economic, and environmental drivers of risk.
It also calls for the implementation of a SIDS-specific NCD and mental health roadmap; the establishment of SIDS-specific front of package labelling; the enabling of health systems to respond more effectively and equitably to the health-care needs of people living with and affected by health conditions, and influencing public policies in sectors outside health that tackle shared risk factors.
Countries are also encouraged to engage civil society to tailor, monitor and evaluate SIDS-specific NCD and mental health interventions to national health system contexts and population needs; accelerate local investment in addressing NCDs and mental health conditions; put regulation and fiscal measures in place to address the main risk factors for NCDs; fully integrated essential NCD and mental health services into primary health care and universal health coverage; and update health regulation.
The document further called for investment in a number of areas, including advocacy, capacity building, early warning and response systems and research.
While giving the assurance that accountability will be a major part of the process, Walcott admitted that it will cost significant sums to achieve the goals.
“You can plan to do everything you can as it relates to NCDs but then we could have our polyclinic and hospitals destroyed after one climatic event, so there needs to be resilience and we will need funding,” the Health Minister said.
“I believe the time now is that we have action. The Prime Minister spoke about success. It is time now for us to identify what is success and move forward to achieving that success.”
He gave the assurance that while work had started in some areas, plans were in place to accelerate those efforts, including the expansion of the nutrition policy, data collection, cancer screening, strengthening of the primary health care system.
“We know that more work has to be done in all of the areas,” he said.
Officials of the World Health Organisation (WHO) pledged their continued technical and support to SIDS as they seek to achieve their goal of wrestling the scourge of NCDS and issues relating to mental health.