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Cancer – time to act!

Cancer – time to act!

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Last week Monday was observed as World Cancer Day. World Cancer Day is an international day marked on February 4 to raise awareness of cancer and to encourage its prevention, detection, and treatment. Cancer is among the leading cause of death in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

During my time as the Focal Point for Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and the National Epidemiologist in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, I was alarmed by the mortality (deaths) and morbidity (medical problems) caused by cancers in this small country. Over a five-year period, 2009 – 2013, malignant neoplasm (cancer) was the leading cause of death.

The National Health and Nutrition Survey (WHO STEPS Survey for Non-Communicable Diseases Risk Factors) that was conducted in 2013-2014 provided some explanation to this problem. The link between the cancer figures and the associated risk factors for NCDs was clear, particularly, the non-modifiable risk factors, such as smoking, excessive use of alcohol, lack of physical activity and improper diet.

The survey showed that more and more young people were taking up smoking at a younger age. Physical activity was at a low, while the intake of fruits and vegetables were way below the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended values. This is indeed alarming, as they all provide a perfect recipe for the surge in Non-communicable diseases, including cancers.

Developing countries like St. Vincent and the Grenadines have in the past battled with communicable diseases. However, due to improved access to health care and sanitation the burden of these diseases has been reduced. Now with a change in lifestyle, the diseases once referred to as diseases of the affluent are now affecting our people.

Almost everyday someone dies from cancer. Cancer is no longer a strange disease. Almost everyone knows of someone who has died of the disease. The most common types of cancers affecting Vincentians are cancer of the prostate in men and breast and cervical cancer in women. However, cancers of the digestive system (stomach/colon) are on the increase and are affecting both men and women.

It also alarming that our young people are succumbing to cancer. This is cause for concern, as cancer is affecting them in their productive years. We have become a nation of people who move less on our feet. The results from the survey showed that physical activity is at a low and our people are becoming more and more obese. Indeed, obesity is clearly linked to cancer.

We are also relying on fast processed food. The World Health Organization said that there is clear link between processed foods and cancer and as such we must reduce the consumption of these foods and increase fruit and vegetables in our diet.

It is time for us to start the fight against cancer and other Non-communicable diseases. The fight must start with us as individuals and must extend to the community and the entire country. The Ministry of Health should develop a comprehensive program for cancer. There must be a plan of action to tackle cancer. Screening programs must be available for the major types of cancers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Health promotion activities must focus on how to avoid these risk factors and adapt healthy lifestyles. Support programs must be put in place to encourage people to eat healthy and to exercise. Affordable diagnostic and treatment must be made available. Finally, legislations are needed to control the importation of processed food and to push for strict tobacco and alcohol control measures.

Dr. Rosmond Adams, MD; MSc (Public Health); M.S (Bioethics) is a medical doctor and a public health specialist with training in bioethics and ethical issues in medicine, the life sciences and research. He is a lecturer of medical ethics and Research Methods.

He is the Head of Health Information, Communicable Disease and Emergency Response at the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA). He is also a member of the World Health Organization Global Coordination Mechanism on the Prevention and Control of NCDs.

(The views expressed here are that of the writer and not of any organizations). You may contact him at [email protected]

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