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Worrying health trends as we ‘develop’

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It is the aspiration of all developing countries to move up the development ladder on the road to becoming what are classed as “developed” countries. This means ending the vicious cycle of poverty, ignorance and disease which plague so many developing and underdeveloped countries.

However there is a downside to all of this, in that becoming more “developed” often brings with it lifestyle changes which are not always positive or healthy.{{more}} Here in our own country, concern is being expressed by health officials that whereas in developing countries, communicable disease is the number one cause of deaths, already there are alarming signs that the rate of death from non-communicable diseases is on the increase at a far from comforting rate.

Statistics from the Ministry of Health reveal a worrying increase in cancer-related deaths between the years 2009 and 2013, from 121 to 174, a 44 per cent jump in five years. But this is not all for the figures show that whereas most cancer patients are still from the over-45 age bracket, the number of those in the 25-44 age range so affected is growing.

In analysing the statistics, one can detect “lifestyle” causes including smoking and alcohol abuse, but also a trend towards obesity in children. This leads to the drive to promote healthier lifestyles, early screening for cancer and such preventative rather than curative measures. Clearly personal responsibility has a role here.

However, it should not escape the attention that there are also other, job-related factors. The Ministry points to such cancer causes as exposure to asbestos, the inhalation of chemical substances and over-exposure to the sun. This indicates that tackling the cancer problem requires a multi-faceted approach.

The emphasis on public education to promote healthy lifestyles must continue to be encouraged. So too must be the campaign to avoid harmful processed foods and to promote the consumption of healthy local foods. This is not only a task for the Nutrition Unit in the Ministry of Health, it has bearing on our agricultural policy, on food production to make more local foods available more cheaply so as to encourage consumption among the poorer sections of our population. The Ministry of Agriculture must play a role too.

Similarly, in relation to possible job-related causes, there is a role for the Ministry of Labour in regard to on-the-job safety regulations or occupational safety as it is known. Employers must also bear their responsibility too. Chemical inhalation takes place not only in factories, but in agricultural fields as well, hence the need for inter-ministerial coordination, including social security and welfare agencies.

The Ministry of Health will of course continue to spearhead the drive but such are the warning signals that it is clear that a concerted national effort is required.

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