Apr 03, 2018 News
Guyana is taking the fight to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) with education being the prime weapon of choice for health officials and other partners.
Public Health Minister, Volda Lawrence, told Kaieteur News that education is crucial before any other measure is considered such as a special tax on products with high sugar content, which countries like Barbados have implemented.
“We are looking at sugary products, but we want to focus on education. Education first of our masses, education within the manufacturing sector and those persons who import products with sugar content,” Lawrence explained.
NCDs are known to afflict 57 percent of adults and kill 70 percent of those between 35 and 60 years old. In response to the alarming rates, Guyana has launched a Presidential Commission on NCDs.
It is believed that taxes on tobacco, alcoholic and sweetened beverages can help to reduce consumption of these products and generate income that can be used to improve the health of the population.
The Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) has encouraged Caribbean authorities to adopt these tax measures, which can contribute to reducing the burden of hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer, and their devastating social and economic consequences.
Clifford Reis, Chairman of Banks DIH, one of the major food and beverage companies in Guyana is wary about the worldwide discussions of implementing a ‘sugar tax’. He told shareholders in January that executives continue to speak with international partners like Coca-Cola in an effort to address growing concerns.
“I am happy that two of our manufacturers in Guyana took the initiative to reduce sugar in their products without us imposing anything on them. I think that if all goes well by the time the commission comes around to meeting with the manufacturers, we will have persons who will say to their fellow manufacturers, ‘we are doing it and these are the results that we have in terms of our sales’, whether it has dropped or whether it has increased,” Lawrence stated.
The Commission, according to Lawrence, will first take on salt, another contributing factor that leads to NCDs.
When it comes to salt, the Minister said the Commission is looking for consensus from the bakeries and all the persons who produce products locally to reduce the quantity of salt. Officials will then target households and restaurants.
Lawrence highlighted that the practice in Guyana where unmeasured salt is used for cooking is dangerous.
“We use our fingers and say it’s a pinch, but when we really add up that pinch, if we should put it in something and weigh it, it’s more than a pinch. And so we want to look at those low hanging fruits for education because we would like the public to buy into it because this is about their health and they having a healthy lifestyle than it being the government imposing something on them,” Lawrence noted.
Currently, the use of excise taxation on products that contribute to NCDs in the Caribbean continues to be limited. Of the 14 PAHO member countries in this sub-region, 11 have excise taxes on tobacco, 11 on alcohol, and two countries, Barbados and Dominica have implemented sugar taxation as a way to deal with the obesity epidemic.
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