‘Best Buys’ to fight NCDs in the Caribbean

‘Best Buys’ are the only solution to the Caribbean issue of Non Communicable Disease (NCDS).

Vice President of the Healthy Caribbean Coalition (HCC), Dr Kenneth Connell, made that point at the Palais Des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, where he attended the 76th edition of World Health Assembly (WHA) which ended on Tuesday.

“Best Buys” or non-financial considerations, are the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommended cost effective interventions to address NCDs.

They currently recommend reduction of salt intake through the reformulation of food products to contain less salt and the setting of target levels for the amount of salt in foods and meals; the establishment of a supportive environment in public institutions such as hospitals, schools, workplaces and nursing homes, to enable lower sodium options to be provided; a behaviour change communication and mass media campaign and the implementation of front-of-pack labelling.

Connell warned if the region’s decision makers did not institute these interventions, then the Caribbean would be in big trouble.

“The ‘Best Buys’ are not only the best buys for the Caribbean,” he began. “They really are the only buys because we cannot afford to treat NCDs. Nobody wants to come out and say it, but we can’t, the cost is too much. Our only hope is prevention because our economies can’t support the cost of actually treating NCDs at the rate at which they are increasing. Not many economies can, so if we don’t recognise the ‘best buys’ are really our hope of reversing this tide, then we are in trouble.”

A significant factor in the rise of NCDs, in his opinion, is the “commercial drivers of the social determinants of health”.

In Connell’s view, the private sector uses clever techniques in order to change how their products are viewed in wider society.

“If you sponsor a sporting event where kids are running and exercising, how can you say that we are unhealthy. Commercial determinants are a tricky thing. Industry should have a voice at the table to discuss how they can help the health agenda, whether that be reformulating their products to reduce sugar/salt or another method,” he contended.

The Vice President continued saying: “However they should not be in the decision-making process when it comes to health. Only the health sector should be making decisions on health or there will always be a conflict of interest, and if there are enough of them at the table, then you will never make any progress.”

Connell who also acts as the Deputy Dean of Recruitment and Outreach at the University of the West Indies also pointed out the hypocrisy in the media when it comes to agenda setting in society.

“Media has a responsibility,” he explained. “You can’t put on a Heart and Stroke advertisement saying get in shape, eat healthily during the evening news and then [putting on an ad saying wing dings are back]. However it’s difficult because media companies also need money right? If there was a policy that said this advertisement could not occur, things would be different.”

The issue of NCDs is well documented in the Caribbean but it is very much an international problem. According to the WHO, mortality and morbidity from NCDs constitute some of the major challenges for development in the 21st Century. More than 36 million people die annually as a result of NCDs – including 15 million people who die too young – between the ages of 30 and 70.

The burden continues to rise disproportionately in low- and lower-middle-income countries, while in all countries, these deaths disproportionately affect the poorest and most vulnerable. The majority of premature NCD deaths in this 30 to 70 age group are the result of the four main non-communicable diseases: cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory disease.

The Small Island Developing States (SIDS), alongside the Government of Barbados, will host a ministerial conference on the prevention and control of NCDS and mental health from June 14 to 16 in a hybrid modality. The conference will set out an ambitious agenda to transform the capability of SIDS countries to proactively respond and effectively deliver health outcomes in relation to both topics. (JC)