Marketing and Communications Manager
BVI Health Services Authority
Director of the Chronic Disease Research Centre, Dr. Alafia Samuels has said that heart and respiratory diseases, stroke, cancer and diabetes are significantly affecting the people of the Caribbean.
Dr. Samuel in a recent GIS report gave an update on the Port of Spain Declaration signed in 2007 by CARICOM Heads of Government in an effort to reduce chronic non-communicable diseases across the Caribbean.
Dr. Samuel said Trinidad and Guyana account for the highest rates of non-communicable diseases in the whole western hemisphere.
“Most of the deaths in the Caribbean are due to these diseases,” she said, adding that the issue is the age at which people are dying from these diseases. She said in North America, on average, people in their 60s, 70s and 80s are dying from heart attack and stroke but in the Caribbean it is people in their 40s and 50s.
Dr. Samuels explained, “We have twice the premature mortality, meaning people between the ages of 30 and 69 are dying from these diseases than that of America.”
The director said most of the deaths in these age groups are preventable and even in the older age groups, more can be done to delay the onset and reduce the complications related to chronic non-communicable diseases.
Dr. Samuels said the Caribbean is vulnerable to these diseases because of poor diets and the type of food that is consumed. She stated that the Caribbean has some of the most obese people in the world and obesity is a big risk factor for cardiovascular disease, heart attack and stroke.
She added, “Also we have a lot of salt in our diet. As we developed, we have become less and less physically active. A lot of people, drive, and sit at their desk all day. The biggest problem though is the types of food we are eating,” Dr. Samuels said.
Dr. Samuel illustrated how the eating habits of Caribbean people have changed over the years stating that our grandparents grew the food they ate. She added, “Our parents bought the natural foods at the market. We are buying food in the supermarket, both natural canned and processed foods and our children are eating fast food. So you see how quickly we have changed the way we eat and that is what is causing our high rates of heart attacks and stroke.”
Dr. Samuels said there is also a need for an increase in physical activity across the Caribbean as a means of promoting health and well-being, as well as practicing healthy eating habits as an integral part of the plan of action for the prevention of non-communicable diseases.
The Ministry of Health and Social Development has implemented a 10-year strategy to improve the health and well-being of the population and reduce the rising prevalence of non-communicable diseases. The strategy prioritises prevention by integrating policies and action across multiple settings where people live, play and work to improve health and save lives.