Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr Christopher Tufton, says every effort must be made to reduce the incidents of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), as these beset too many Jamaicans.
He pointed out that the coronavirus (COVID-19) has increased the vulnerability of persons to poor health outcomes, while presenting a significant challenge to the economy. Approximately 15 per cent of the health budget is being spent on ailments associated with NCDs.
Among these are “diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer – as is reflected in the 2017 investment case for the prevention and control of NCDs in Jamaica”, the Minister said while addressing Thursday’s (October 14) virtual launch of Phase-3 of the front-o- package labels (FOPLs) media campaign, being spearheaded by the Heart Foundation of Jamaica.
The campaign is targeting Caribbean countries, with concentration in Jamaica and Barbados. Minister Tufton said the initiative is timely and stated that the 2017 report indicated that the Jamaican economy stands to lose some $77.1 billion over a 15-year period (2017-2032), “should we fail to implement a package of interventions for NCDs, notably diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, tobacco and alcohol control,” he said.
Minister Tufton in stressing that the recommended investment in policies and programmes is a priority, estimates a yield of $2.10 on every dollar spent and said the health issues must be tackled.
“It is essential, therefore, that every effort be made to put the brakes on NCDs, with which so many of our people are not only living, but from which they are also dying,” the Minister told his audience, adding that 70 per cent of Jamaicans die each year from an NCD.
“Given this context, the Ministry of Health and Wellness has prioritised food labelling as one of a number of needed interventions,” he said while highlighting that, among other things, FOPLs are intended to “transparently and clearly” indicate to consumers whether the pre-packaged product is within the established recommendations for health, with specific reference to salt, sugar, saturated fat, and trans fat content.
The Minister reported that his Ministry has a number of other actions to overcome the NCD challenge – from the development of the Interim Guidelines for Beverages in Schools to involvement in the LIFE project of the Caribbean Institute for Health Research.
That project, he said, is investigating the role of genetic, lifestyle, social, and environmental factors in NCDs in Jamaica.
He also noted that the Ministry has launched a salt study to provide further insight into needed interventions. “The evidence is, however, that a number of health conditions are caused or otherwise exacerbated by a high-salt diet. The effect on blood pressure, stroke and heart disease is where the strongest evidence lies, but there is a wide body of evidence showing a link between salt consumption and other conditions,” Dr. Tufton said.