Is The Government Addressing The Non-Communicable Disease Crisis In Trinidad and Tobago?
It May Appear That Way But A Closer Look Raises More Questions Than Answers
The impact of NCDs on our populations can no longer be viewed solely as a health crisis. The Government of Trinidad and Tobago recognizes this challenge and has therefore put in place measures to prevent and treat persons affected by these NCDs.
We have experienced great successes and strides in public health. We have been able to reduce infant mortality, eradicate polio, and virtually eliminate childhood diseases like measles, and diphtheria as major causes of infant morbidity and mortality through our robust primary care programmes.
Nevertheless, over the past decade, heart disease has remained the number 1 cause of death, accounting for 25%. Diabetes has remained fairly constant accounting for just under 14% of deaths. Cancers have increased slightly from 12.7% to 13.8%. In the case of strokes, however, there has been a 1% decline from 10% to 9%.
Those words were delivered in a speech by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar during the 66th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, United Nations Headquarters, New York, September 19, 2011.
Her speech confirms that she understands the extent of the problem we face. You can read the rest of it here. Since she has returned her response to what she termed a crisis has been wanting. She must have mentioned something to the Health Minister because soon after he came up with this.
A programme launched in November of 2011, a couple of months after she came back, it was called “Fight The Fat” Details are here
Then in August of 2012 the Health Ministry hosted another wellness programme entitled “National Wellness Day – The Healthiest Day in the Nation’s History” Go here if you want to read about what they did.
Now we are talking about minds that are leading our country. We are talking about poeple with high academic standing with access to unlimited information. What has evolved from those highly educated minds in the Ministry of Health, our government, have as a solution a number of non-sustainable responses to a major health crisis in our country. In terms of educating the public these events are absolutely necessary but that's like putting a band aid on a cutlass chop.
Why not put a progrmme in place that targets food manufacturers, importers, wholesalers. The rationale is simple, if unhealthy foods are not available, the citizenry will have no other alternative than healthy choices? A simple standardization program that limits toxic ingredients that can be legally used with severe penalties for breaking the law. The target being food manufacturers like local bakers, confectionary producers and soft drink companies. These industries will not self regulate while the government focus is on “educating consumers”.
An article was published a couple of days ago that reinforced the belief that the government really does not know what it's doing with respect to health. The PM words now have more relevance when she said;
The Government of Trinidad and Tobago recognizes this challenge and has therefore put in place measures to prevent and treat persons affected by these NCDs.
She did not say anything about the industries that produce unhealthy foods. Her focus is on treatment, not prevention. And this, according to the Health Minister:
"Processed food on the whole, it is laced with chemicals, as well as different substances that can irritate basically any part of your system, cells and otherwise, and create abnormal growth, which is cancer, and also at the same time could cause cardiac diseases or heart diseases," he said.
He noted that many of the additives and the processed chemicals were used to preserve the food and make it taste good.
"And those processed chemicals can cause the person to be highly addicted to the food themselves. So once you start eating it, you start to miss it, and it creates a system where you want it."
The worst part of this is the conclusion by the Health Minister, here is what was reported on the last line of the article.
The article noted that ...as Health Minister, he could not legislate behavior, but could only educate "and hope that it sticks on fertile ground".
Send a message for the Minister: Yes, we can legislate behavior. Most governments are able to do it if they recognize the importance like saving lives. They have done it with seat belt laws, use of cell phones, drinking and driving.
The question as it relates to NCDs is; whose behavior should be legislated. Are you going to legislate the industries that are flooding the market with bad food? Or, are you going to pick on the soft target like the consumers who purchase what’s available on the market?
Who should the Health Minister protect?