PAHO To Stop Regional Epidemic Of Chronic Diseases

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Chronic Diseases

The worst epidemic in the Americas of chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and respiratory diseases? is prompting a major new effort by the Pan American Health Organization to reverse these troubling trends, which stand to triple deaths from cardiovascular diseases in Latin America and the Caribbean over the next 20 years.

All the countries of the Region integrating the CARMEN Network, made up of governmental and nongovernmental institutions and academics that work on non-communicable disease prevention and control in the Region of the Americas, are meeting this week in The Bahamas. They aim to take stock of progress over the last 10 years, and plan intensified actions, including raising awareness about the human and economic burden of chronic diseases and the cost effective measures available.

Chronic disease already constitutes the leading cause of premature mortality in Latin America and in the Caribbean. The Deputy Director of PAHO, Dr. Cristina Beato, has made an appeal to action in response to the complex epidemiological trends. What we are seeing, said Dr. Beato, is the result of changes in lifestyles, with people moving away from traditional diets and carrying out less physical activity, smoking cigarettes and abusing alcohol. "The key is in disease prevention and in creating consciousness. These diseases carry an incredible human and economic burden," she added, noting that governments, private sector and civil society can work to change the environment to make the healthy choice the easier choice.

Trends in other diseases and pathologies suggest similar patterns. It is estimated, for example, that the number of people with diabetes in the Americas will jump from 35 million in 2000 to 64 million in 2025. This situation is not economically sustainable, even for well off countries, but the good news is most of it is preventable through comprehensive action.

One of the main objectives of the international meeting in the Bahamas is to support the development of the national capabilities of the countries to implement a new Regional Strategy and Action Plan for the Integrated Prevention and Control of Chronic Diseases and Risk Factors. Officials of the Pan American Health Organization are carrying out an in-depth planning exercise to combat the rising trends and estimates of current and future epidemiology of chronic diseases in the Americas.

The CARMEN Network is working with the four lines of action of this strategy, which are policy and advocacy, chronic disease and risk factor surveillance, health promotion and disease prevention, and management of diseases and risk factors.

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"It is already perfectly clear what needs to be done in order to prevent most of the chronic diseases," said Dr. James Hospedales, Chief of the Unit of Chronic Diseases of PAHO, which is organizing the regional meeting. "Comprehensive action to promote conditions for health, to prevent risk factors, and to improve treatment of people with chronic diseases can stop the epidemic. This meeting is fundamental, and demonstrates the imperative need to act."

Dr. Hospedales said the "tsunami" of cancer and of other chronic diseases in the Americas is not coming in the future. "The impact of this wave is already here; a fact noted by the CARICOM Heads of Government in their recent special Summit on chronic diseases." Among the critical elements of prevention is tobacco control, a healthier diet and an increase in physical activity, he noted.

Dr. Hospedales stressed the enormous need for action i the struggle against chronic diseases not only by the health sector but also with the active participation of education, trade and agriculture, finance, and planning sectors along with the private sector, communications media, food companies, and civil society.

In the context of the first 10 years of the CARMEN Network, the delegates to the meeting are discussing the need to implement and strengthen policies, legislation, and capacity for surveillance, and how to reduce risk factors for chronic diseases such as tobacco use, inadequate diets and sedentary lifestyles. PAHO has indicated that 30 minutes of daily physical activity can cut the risk of heart disease and reduce the risk of diabetes type 2 and osteoporosis.

Heads of Government of the CARICOM countries recently gave their unconditional political support to setting a high priority on reducing chronic disease, at the end of a historic Summit of the Caribbean held in September under the auspices of the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Hon. Patrick Manning.

In a statement, the Bahamas Ministry of Health said: "The Bahamas is pleased to co-host with the Pan American Health Organization this important meeting of the CARMEN Network. It is imperative that we maintain a focus on combating the burden of Chronic Non-communicable Diseases as a regional priority identified in the Nassau Declaration of 2001 and also in the report of the Caribbean Commission on Health and Development in 2005. Most recently, the Rt. Honorable Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham led a delegation to the CARICOM Summit on Chronic Non-communicable Diseases in Port-of-Spain Trinidad and Tobago, where Heads of Government unanimously adopted the 'Declaration of Port-of-Spain' that signifies a regional commitment to strategies for combating non-communicable diseases and their determinants. We are therefore particularly delighted to associate The Bahamas directly with the CARMEN Network and with the strategies being implemented across the region of the Americas to combat the Chronic Diseases Epidemic."

Dr. Hospedales said PAHO is working closely with CARICOM to support implementation of the Summit Declaration and to see how these processes can be replicated in Central America, the Andean region and in the countries of South America. At the global level, Prime Minister Douglas of St Kitts and Nevis, will be making a report on the Summit to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Uganda later this month.

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