Minister of Health John Boyce has cautioned some of the leading minds in scientific public health research in the Caribbean that the prevention of Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases is the only salvation for the region.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the 58th Annual Caribbean Public Health Agency’s Scientific Conference at the Hilton Barbados last evening, Boyce stressed that Caribbean governments would not be able to afford the future costs of health care, if they did not initiate programmes at once to prevent persons from developing CNCDs.
He acknowledged that rising standards of living had brought about a change in demographics where Barbados and other Caribbean states were experiencing lower birth rates, longer life spans and a shift from infectious to lifestyle related diseases.
“As we made progress fending off mortality from infectious disease, the new killers have become cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other permanent illnesses. The burden of illness has shifted with chronic illnesses replacing infectious diseases with lethal force.
“These changes in our demographics have made us realise that our strategy for public health cannot be business as usual. However, this difference in demographics means that individuals, communities, civil societies and the private sector, all have to work with Government to exert more control over the occurrence and outcomes of these chronic illnesses,” Boyce emphasised.
He added that while public health in the past century had been primarily concerned with keeping people alive and alleviating their suffering, scientific discoveries had “enabled us to go further by improving one’s ability to help avoid illness entirely and to help people achieve the best quality of life”.
The minister said CARPHA signalled the strengthening of public health procedures by combining the functions of the five Caribbean health institutes — Caribbean Epidemiology Centre, Caribbean Health Research Council, Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute, Caribbean Environmental Health Institute and the Caribbean Research Drug Testing Laboratory — into a single agency.
This, he pointed out, would allow for an integrated approach to public health priorities; a more cohesive response to preventing diseases and public health emergencies; and ultimately, promoting health in the Caribbean.
Boyce said the two-and-a-half day scientific conference came about when the region was facing challenging times.
“We are experiencing extreme weather events and natural disasters and other existing crises. All of this is coupled with other longstanding health challenges such as an ageing population and increasing non-communicable diseases. This presents regional governments with tremendous challenges; such challenges pose a threat to the sustainability of our health systems.