Campaign Against Chronic Diseases Set For Caribbean

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Chronic Diseases

A major new campaign to fight chronic disease in the Caribbean is getting underway in an effort to stem "the worst epidemic of chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory disease in the Americas," with the participation of heads of government.

Government leaders want to work together to reduce risk factors such as obesity, unhealthy food choices, physical inactivity, high cholesterol and tobacco use, which contribute to making chronic diseases the leading causes of death in Caribbean countries, according to the Pan American Health Organization's Dr. James Hospedales.

PAHO and the Caribbean Community organized a historic summit, "Stemming the Tide of Non-communicable Diseases in the Caribbean, hosted by the Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago, the Hon. Patrick Manning, to launch the watershed regional campaign against chronic diseases.

Government leaders including the Chairman of CARICOM, Hon. Owen Arthur, Prime Minister of Barbados, Dr. Denzil Douglas, Prime Minister of St Kitts & Nevis, and Secretary General of CARICOM Edwin Carrington, along with the chairman of the Caribbean Commission on Health and Development, Dr. George Alleyne, are calling for regional unity to stop the epidemic of chronic "lifestyle" diseases, which account for more than half the incidence of death and disease in the CARICOM region.

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"That we are meeting as Heads of Government on this matter indicates the priority that CARICOM has placed on the topic," Prime Minister Manning said, noting that tobacco taxes were a good initial step but that a comprehensive public education program on lifestyle management, in partnership with the media, is also needed.

Dr. Alleyne also said the Caribbean summit focus on individual responsibility for the reduction of chronic diseases must be coupled with the need for policy makers to create an enabling environment which that empowers individuals to manage their own lifestyle, and with a regional public education program to inform people about the magnitude of chronic diseases and how to help reduce risk factors for them.

Both in the Caribbean and in Latin America, chronic diseases are now the leading cause of premature mortality, accounting for nearly half the deaths of persons under 70, and for two out of three deaths overall. In the current decade, cardiovascular diseases are expected to claim 20.7 million lives in the Americas, and predictions for the next 20 years include a tripling of heart disease and stroke mortality in Latin America.

Dr Edward Greene, Assistant Secretary General of the CARICOM Secretariat, said critical concerns also include measures on food importation, production and pricing to help ensure that people can afford to buy healthy foods. The assault on chronic diseases comes in the wake of the recommendations of the Commission on Health and Development, which reasserted the need for better food choices and greater physical activity on the part of Caribbean populations and advocated public policy measures by Caribbean Governments to modulate the environment.

The Caribbean summit Sept. 15 was organized by CARICOM and PAHO, with heads of government, other decision and policy makers, and regional and international organizations to curtail lifestyle-related diseases such as obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, heart attack and cancer.

The Pan American Health Organization, regional office for the Americas of the World Health Organization, works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and raise living standards of their peoples.

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