Guyana is in a state of emergency when it comes to non-communicable diseases [NCDs]. This was the observation of President David Granger yesterday when he launched a National Presidential Commission to help fast track efforts to combat NCDs.
Speaking at the Kingston, Georgetown Umana Yana, the President sought to amplify that NCDs are known to afflict 57 percent of adults and kill 70 percent of those between 35 and 60 years old.
He blamed a lack of physical exercise, poor diet and life-reducing habits such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. He underscored that NCDs, for this reason, are classified as ‘lifestyle’ diseases.
President Granger, who is the patron of the Commission, unveiled a three-pronged plan which he believes can help roll back the impact of chronic lung disease, hypertension, cancers, heart disease and diabetes.
Under the plan, he challenged Senior Public Health Minister, Volda Lawrence, to undertake a comprehensive public information campaign, pursue fresh initiatives and implement the pact. He said implementation must be “comprehensive and multi-sectoral, including non-governmental organisations (NGOs), trade unions, religious institutions, civil society, the media, citizens and local celebrities.
“We are in a state of emergency (and) these are serious initiatives,” President Granger said. He added, “This is a national effort, not a governmental one solely.”
This is particularly important since the President expressed concern that there has been a collapse of traditional Guyanese cuisine preference which is mimicking those of developed states portrayed by their global icons.
“The culinary art has moved from the home to the street.”
He anticipates that his three-pronged plan will be a comprehensive and sustained public information campaign reminding citizens that they are indulging in “self-harm” by regularly consuming sugary, fat-saturated and salty foods.
The President’s public communication plan envisages a better informed public about lifestyle changes and choices where every school has playgrounds, physical exercises (PE) as part of the curriculum and annual athletic championships. He is convinced that “Sports should be mandatory in all schools,” even as he proposed that school cafeterias should be made to offer healthy food and beverages which should include coconut water, instead of manufactured products which have a heavy concentration of sugar.
Granger admitted that he is worried about the popularity of the sedentary lifestyle nationally which makes the nation easy targets for NCDs.
“Unfortunately the burden of NCDs falls on the poor and perhaps the less educated,” President Granger observed.
He floated jovially a ‘no-minibus day’ nationally to help counter the lack of exercise among the population and suggested that Guyanese should walk or ride to work and school as an alternative.
“Obesity or NCDs is not a joke. We will save lives and money by avoiding the plague,” the President passionately emphasised.
Yesterday’s launch of the Presidential Commission is part of a menu of measures the government is pursuing to fulfil ‘the good life’ it campaigned on during the run up to the May 2015 polls.
About a decade ago, the Caribbean created global history when it convened its inaugural conference of Heads of Government on NCDs, the precursor for the United Nations (UN) High-level Meeting on NCDs in 2011.
Ironically, that landmark moment did little to reverse a trend which seemed well-set before the visionary leaders’ decision.
“The statistics is quite shocking. Our soda consumption is the highest in the world. In some countries more than 30 percent of young people are overweight or obese. Our diabetes rates are double global rates and in some populations up to 50 per cent of us are living with high blood pressure. It is clear that we need to accelerate our response,” lamented Dr. Alafia Samuels, Director of the George Alleyne Chronic Disease Research Centre, University of the West Indies (UWI), and head of a wide-ranging evaluation of the Port of Spain Declaration.
Other noted regional and hemispheric figures, such as Dr. Edward Greene and Sir George Alleyne, Dr. Mirta Roses, former Director of PAHO and Dr James Hospedales, Executive Director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) have also commented on the daunting state of affairs.
While the region has made gains in some areas, Dr. Hospedales has warned about dangerous deterioration in others.
“Some, like diet/nutrition/obesity just keep getting worse, and that drives diabetes, cancer, heart disease. The food environment is not healthy. Obesity in children is the red flag.
“And, economically, we cannot afford to carry those preventable costs, when we are struggling to grow,” Dr Hospedales has pointed out.
Yesterday, President Granger reiterated the warning that Guyanese should recognise that “obesity is no joke.”
PAHO/WHO Representative in Guyana, Dr. William Adu-Krow in brief remarks challenged Guyanese “to find solution to the NCDs national epidemic.” He also suggested that there be emphasis on health in “all sectors” in the Guyanese economy.
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