The minister said the CNCD pandemic was a double burden on small economies like Barbados, noting: “The first burden is the cost of absenteeism due to illness. Every hour lost because of illness is revenue taken from employers and taken from the Government purse. Without that revenue, government cannot pay for the goods and services it provides for its citizens. Second, the more people fall ill, the more government has to spend on health services. CNCDs, therefore, add unnecessary costs to the running of a country. It is for these reasons that development specialists have argued that ‘the health of a nation is the wealth of the nation.”
He noted the problem was not peculiar to Barbados, but was a “worldwide and Caribbean-wide crisis”, pointing out that a heads of government of CARICOM special summit in Trinidad in September, 2007 revealed that the Caribbean had the highest incidence of CNCDs in the Americas.
During that summit, contributing factors such as physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, tobacco use, alcohol abuse and stress were pinpointed. However, Inniss said that, since then, Barbados had removed duty-free concessions on tobacco products as well as increased taxes on such items. In addition, the country has also established a National Commission on NCDs, now the National NCD Commission of Barbados.
Citing a World Health Organisation global report, the health minister stated that approximately 3.2 million people die each year, due to physical inactivity. And, people who are physically inactive have a 20 percent to 30 percent increased risk of “all-cause” mortality, he stressed.
“Let me, therefore, take this opportunity to reassure you that my government is convinced that NCDs, if left to chance, can undermine all the gains we have enjoyed since Independence. Government has, therefore, included NCD prevention as a priority in national development initiatives and related investment decisions. We have also gone beyond what is expected of us, by targeting vulnerable members of our society.
“I believe that the most vulnerable members of our society are our children. And, because childhood is a stage that we all go through, the future of our nation depends critically on the experiences of our children. It is for this reason that in 1990, Barbados became a signatory to the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child. This legally binding document which is vigorously promoted and monitored by UNICEF, sets out the fundamental human rights of children,” Inniss disclosed.
He added that government was committed to investing in the health of the nation and this was evident from the budgetary allocation of $355.8 million to the Ministry of Health for the fiscal year 2010/2011. This, he said, accounted for approximately 8.8 percent of total government expenditure. However, the minister noted that government alone could not lead the fight against CNCDs.
“The private sector can make an important contribution to addressing NCD prevention challenges. Responsible businesses can refuse to promote unhealthy diets and other harmful behaviours. They can choose to promote healthy food options and encourage their employees to get involved in sports and other health-inducing activities.
“Civil society institutions and groups are uniquely placed to mobilise people and heighten public awareness and support for NCD prevention and control measures. General education and strong advocacy are still required for NCDs to be fully recognised as key priorities,” Inniss emphasised.