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Uniting to stop the epidemic of chronic non-communicable disease



by Reynold Hewitt

Ministry of Health

Over the last two decades, control or reduction of infectious diseases (Polio, Measles) has been made in the Caribbean, through programmes like “expanded Immunization programme and Polio eradication programme”. Today, there are only seven countries with cases of polio.{{more}}

This week, St. Vincent and the Grenadines celebrates “Caribbean Wellness Day” with focus on control of chronic non-communicable diseases such as hypertension, heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and diabetes.

Why the focus on chronic non-communicable diseases?

1. To build awareness of these diseases in the population

2. Chronic non-communicable diseases like hypertension are the leading cause of death globally and in St.Vincent and the Grenadines.

3. They place severe burden on the health sector’s scarce resources.

4. They place a severe burden on the financial resources of St.Vincent and the Grenadines.

5. Vincentians have poor lifestyle habits; we eat between meals, eat fast food, less physical activity, and drink alcohol and smoke.

6. Our children are obese because they eat junk food; eat in front the television and have no physical activity at home or at school.

In the last three years St.Vincent has seen an increase in the number of fast food restaurants in the city. The food served at these restaurants is high in salt, cholesterol and depending on the food, sugars. These are risk factors for hypertension, obesity, stroke and heart disease. These factors increase the risk for these diseases as we age.

All sectors can unite, the schools, churches and employers can all play a role to prevent or reduce non-communicable diseases by combining their resources.

The schools’ administrators and teachers need to practice healthy life styles to set an example for students, establish health clubs in the schools, include physical activity in the school curriculum, and make health food available for students.

The administrators can also develop a comprehensive school health policy, with several components such as healthy policy, health instructions, physical activity, nutrition, inclusion of community leaders, local residents, health care providers, social workers and members of organized groups who are interested in improving health education and well being in schools and the community, in which the school is located. This policy has a holistic approach for the development of students.

The churches can provide health information for their members, conduct demonstrations of the preparation of health foods, and encourage members to exercise daily and to eat healthy foods including fruits.

Employers can assist workers who smoke or drink alcohol by encouraging them to enroll in a group to help them to stop smoking and drinking. Employers need to formulate a no smoking and drinking policy at the work place.

To reduce or delay the development of non-communicable diseases we can do the following;

1. Exercise at least three days per week for 30 minutes

2. Don’t drink alcohol

3. Don’t smoke

4. Eat fruits and vegetables daily or at least three times per week

5. Get at least eight (8) hours rest each night

If we apply these simple preventable steps we can reduce risk factors for chronic non-communicable diseases, increase life expectancy and improve self esteem.