High NCD Mortality Rates In SIDS Countries

Over half of the people with non-communicable diseases (NCDs) from small island developing states (SIDS) die before they reach the age of 70.

This was the daunting picture painted today, as Minister of Health and Wellness, Senator Dr. The Most Honourable Jerome Walcott, addressed delegates, including Ministers of Health from the region, at the Ministerial Conference on Non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health, at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.

Dr. Walcott further disclosed that while life expectancy in SIDS was in line with global averages, differences between SIDS countries vary by as much as 20 years.

Additionally, he shared that risk factors showed that 28 per cent of adults aged 18 years and above do not engage in enough physical activity, 23 per cent smoke tobacco and 56 per cent are overweight, with half of these being obese. 

The Health Minister further noted that mental health conditions were also worrisome in small island developing states, and suicide rates were disproportionately high when compared to global averages.

The bleak picture continued as he outlined the situation with childhood obesity, stating that it was another significant issue in SIDS, with rates that continued to rise, particularly “here” and in the Western Pacific Region.

As a result, Minister Walcott said further action would be needed to support SIDS achieving Sustainable Development Goal target 3.4, to reduce premature mortality from NCDs by one-third by 2030, while promoting good mental health.

“Today we are here, having recognised the seriousness of NCDs and mental health, as threats to national and regional development and, more specifically, the challenges faced by small island developing states in minimising the human and social fallout that may result from not slowing the impacts of NCDs and mental health.  In other words, tackling NCDs is about more than preventing and treating disease, it is an integral part of sustainable development.

“The multifactorial nature of NCDs makes their prevention and control probably the most challenging area of public health, and hence requires complex coordinated action and strong political commitment across Government,” the Health Minister underscored.

A multisectoral approach was required, he stated, especially for action on the environmental, economic and social determinants of health.

He said the Ministerial Conference represented this approach, “wherein civil society, the private sector, academia and health leaders are all in a single space to discuss, deliberate and decide on how SIDS, along with development partners, can accelerate progress in addressing NCDs and Mental Health”.

The vulnerabilities of SIDS countries could at times affect the delivery of primary health care and hinder progress towards achieving universal health coverage, said the Minister, adding that fragmented and poor accessibility of health care services remained a threat to people living with NCDs and mental health conditions.

Minister Walcott acknowledged that trade agreements and policies have steered populations away from traditional diets, resulting in increased levels of obesity, food insecurity and NCDs.

“Sometimes, due to the size and nature of the commercial actors involved, governments in SIDS face impossible odds in securing regulatory protections to improve health. This is particularly true in SIDS, where government resources and budgets may be dwarfed by the size and scale of multinational companies and foreign commercial actors. Indeed, Barbados has identified this challenge and is looking at front-of-package labelling and ensuring that policies to remove industrially-produced trans fats, from the food supply are in place by December 2024,” he said.

Minister Walcott pointed out that similar considerations were encountered in introducing the local school nutrition policy and the adoption of the sugar sweetened beverage tax and the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

He said that understanding these commercial determinants of health, the power balances inherent within them, and the critical roles of global governance and leadership were important steps in improving health outcomes.