Minister of Health & Wellness Christopher Tufton says that while important, the recent Bridgetown Declaration may not have gone far enough to communicate the imperative to declare non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in small island developing states (SIDS) a global health emergency.
“NCDs in SIDS must be declared a global emergency. Even at the height of the COVID pandemic, more persons were dying from hypertension than from COVID. Worldwide, raised blood pressure is estimated to cause 7.5 million deaths each year compared to global COVID deaths – 1.9, 3.5 and 1.2 million in 2020, 2021, 2022, respectively,” noted Tufton.
He was making the case on behalf of SIDS while addressing the PAHO Executive Committee, of which he is chair, in Washington DC last Thursday.
The PAHO Executive Committee was meeting on the heels of the SIDS Ministerial Conference on NCDs and Mental Health, hosted in Barbados between June 14 and 16 and which produced the Bridgetown Declaration as the outcome document.
According to Tufton, it is also necessary to create the required enabling environment for the implementation and sustainability of tailored interventions in SIDS, with human development prioritised in the NCDs response. This, he said, includes a reform of the food system.
“SIDS-NCD vulnerabilities and burdens are driven, in part, by the lack of food sovereignty. The World Trade Organisation facilitates and encourages rather than discourages that we accept unhealthy food imports that fuel unhealthy diets, which is one of the four major risk factors for NCDs,” he said.
“NCDs are debilitating, causing premature mortality and even greater morbidity with a higher burden on people with fewer resources, thus worsening poverty and inequality, and compromising their productivity and quality of life,” the Minister added.
What is more, he said there is a foundation in SIDS – also referenced in the Bridgetown Declaration – on which to build.
Said Tufton: “Both the WHO/PAHO and individual countries have developed innovative, evidence-informed actions and best practices to tackle NCDs and their risk factors. There needs to be more mechanisms for countries to develop initiatives particular to their needs and be supported in initiating and sustaining these interventions,” he added.
And, he said ministers of health also have a critical role to play in the response.
“Ministers of Health are central to driving the NCDs response. There is need for an institutional SIDS-NCD driver – perhaps an expansion of COHSOD [Council for Human and Social Development] or PAHO/WHO supported, where SIDS ministers of health come together to discuss progress on this specific matter,” Tufton said.
“This mechanism must continue the Barbados meeting framework, be driven by SIDS with support from WHO/PAHO and should include civil society and persons living with NCDs. The private sector should also be engaged in the implementation phase after priority policies have been determined by governments and their agencies,” the health and wellness minister said.