Advancing Health and Wellness as a Priority in CARICOM Countries Development

Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago- Health and wellness are essential factors to the Caribbean region’s development.   Taking a very strong stance, Dr C. James Hospedales, Executive Director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), states that “Nothing can be more important today to the resilience of the Region than the state of public health.”  Dr. Hospedales made this remark as he reflected on what Caribbean Public Health Day, should mean to the people of the region.

According to statistics from the Caribbean Development Bank, the Region struggled to achieve 1% economic growth in 2015 and will likely fall below that percentage in 2016.  Other information in the State of Public Health report being launched by CARPHA show that health problems, particularly chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are also negatively affecting economic growth.   Depending on the study and country, diabetes and hypertension alone can account for 3-8% negative impact on the Gross Domestic Product, yet these problems are almost entirely preventable. The ageing of our populations also argues for investing in healthy ageing as an economic imperative.

In light of the data, Dr Hospedales reasoned that “Making the choice to invest in health promotion and disease prevention is one definite solution in the creation of healthy societies and economies, especially as many of these ailments are completely preventable through a combination of public policies, consumer education, and health services strengthening”.  He went on to say that, “Achieving economic growth regionally can be as simple as managing the Region’s health situation to reduce preventable impediments to growth.”  Caribbean Public Health Day is therefore an important vehicle to educate and inform the people and policy makers of the Region of their role in supporting and maintaining good public health.

The CARPHA executive director maintains that tobacco and alcohol use, diet and physical activity are key factors which must be addressed to improve health. Attention must be given to tobacco taxation, labelling and having smoke free public spaces. Additionally, finding ways to reducing the harmful use of alcohol is also of paramount importance and can be achieved through pricing and enforcing underage drinking laws.

The reduction of fat, salt and sugars in processed foods, coupled with mandatory nutrition labeling and reducing marketing to children are part of the dietary considerations that have to be implemented, as is ensuring that fruit and vegetables, especially those that are locally produced, become part of our daily consumption.  Fiscal and trade measures such as aligning nutritional value with taxes and including consideration of health in trade negotiations will benefit our productivity and our economies.

Linked to our diet and our overall health and wellbeing is our need to ensure adequate physical activity.  The introduction of bicycle lanes, walking paths in new developments and public recreational spaces for children and adults are key. Workplaces that support physical activity and wellness programs are making a positive investment to improving business productivity and reducing costs of illness.

People with chronic health problems and their families also have a responsibility to manage themselves and adhere to medications and lifestyle prescriptions.

As the regional public health agency, CARPHA continuously monitors the health situation threats and assists member states with developing needed policies and programmes to respond to the changing situation. The Agency coordinates the regional response to health threats such as Chikungunya and Zika, and has developed other value-added initiatives such as its Tourism and Health Programme, the Caribbean Regulatory System for Pharmaceuticals, and has commenced a Greening Initiative.

CARPHA will be launching its inaugural State of Public Health Report on Caribbean Public Health Day.  The report reviews the public health situation in the Region and provides statistical and technical information which can be used to aid decision making.

On the eve of the 37th Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) 2016, policy makers are urged to take note of the state of public health as a critical success factor in the region’s development and to pursue evidence-informed polices to promote health and prevent disease, with co-benefits to economic development.

Caribbean Public Health Day takes place on the July 2 each year and coincides with the anniversary of the official launch of the Caribbean Public Health Agency. The theme for 2016 is “Investing in Health for Regional Development.”

Since its inception CARPHA has been working with member states and partners such as the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Healthy Caribbean Coalition (HCC), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and other regional and international institution in preventing disease, promoting and protecting health in the Region.