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Our fight against Non-Communicable Diseases

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Tue, Sept 27. 2011

Statement by: Dr. the Honourable Ralph E. Gonsalves Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to the United Nations at the High-Level Meeting on the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases, 19th September, 2011, New York

Mr. President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines aligns itself fully with the statement previously delivered on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) by His Excellency the President of the Republic of Suriname.{{more}} Given the limited time allotted to speakers in this High Level Meeting, I will not seek to be exhaustive in my remarks, but merely to add to those who have spoken before me on this important issue.

Mr. President, four years ago, during my address to the General Debate of the 62nd Session of the UN General Assembly, I said the following:

The costs associated with treating the chronic, non-communicable disease epidemic are staggering, and constitute a serious threat to our already-strained health care budgets. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has therefore declared war on chronic, non-communicable diseases, and is in the embryonic stages of developing a comprehensive strategy to elaborate a wellness revolution among and by our citizens. This is part of a well-articulated strategy, regionally, by member-states of CARICOM. To that end, we urge the World Health Organisation and the Pan American Health Organisation to partner with Caribbean nations in devising effective strategies to combat these debilitating lifestyle diseases.

Today, I am pleased to address a High Level Meeting dedicated specifically to the NCD epidemic. I am grateful to the perseverance of my fellow CARICOM heads of state and government in bringing this matter to the forefront of the international agenda. In September 2007, we issued a Declaration entitled “Uniting to Stop the Epidemic of Chronic NCDs” which preceded the first-ever Heads of Government Summit devoted solely to NCDs. I also appreciate the solidarity and foresight of the Heads of Government of the Commonwealth, who issued an important Statement on Commonwealth Action to Combat Non-Communicable Diseases during our 2009 Meeting in Trinidad and Tobago. The Ambassadors of Luxembourg and our sister island of Jamaica are also deserving of our commendation, for the strong work they did in co-facilitating the negotiating process that led to our Political Declaration on NCDs.

The Government and people of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines also expresses its deepest thanks to those governments that have assisted us in the formulation and implementation of our own wellness revolution. In particular, we thank the European Union and the governments of Cuba and Taiwan, whose recent successful efforts to participate in the World Health Assembly reflect their deeply held commitment to international health issues.

But this is not a time for congratulatory back-slapping. It is a time for the international community to roll up our collective sleeves to confront an epidemic that is correctable, reversible and treatable. This High Level event is not the culmination of an effort, but merely the beginning of intense, focused and coordinated actions to address the health and developmental impacts of NCDs, particularly in poor and middle-income countries.

Mr. President,

There is a reason that this meeting is being held here in New York in the UN General Assembly and not in the World Health Organisation headquarters in Switzerland. That reason is the fact that the fallout of the NCD epidemic is much wider than the health sector or the health of those individuals tragically afflicted with non-communicable diseases. The developmental aspects of this epidemic must be highlighted and addressed. In particular, we must confront the tremendous strain that NCD treatment places on the healthcare budgets of developing countries. We cannot ignore, too, the disproportionate impact of this epidemic on poor people and developing states; or its obvious negative impact on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Our response to the NCD epidemic must therefore be multifaceted and coordinated.

In that regard, while I am heartened by our international consensus on the Political Declaration emanating from this meeting, it is not enough. Our political consensus today must give impetus to a robust follow-up process and a detailed action plan that will provide assistance to local hospitals and primary care facilities; acknowledge that the flexibilities inherent in the World Trade Organisation’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement can and must be applied to the NCD epidemic; dedicate Development Assistance to strengthening NCD prevention and treatment; and collaborate on education and public awareness efforts in combating these diseases. We must also consider the role of the State and civil society in promoting healthy lifestyles and protecting local citizens from environmental harm and trade imbalances that make an imported hamburger, French fries and a carbonated beverage cheaper and more readily available than a nutritious, locally produced meal.

Mr. President, Hippocrates once stated: “A wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings.” If we can collectively protect and preserve this blessing, the benefits will go well beyond the longevity and productivity of individual citizens. It will have a knock-on effect on the economies, societies and developmental prospects of countries and regions.

I thank you.

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