THERE is an aspect to our lifestyles whereby eating and drinking carry a sense of merriment, without much thought given to what is consumed, the quantity,
health/nutritional value, the impact on our bodies and ultimately overall health and longevity. Once it tastes good or makes one feels good, that is all that matters. Physical activity is also not generally seen as important and vital to sustaining healthy lifestyles. Such outlook carries consequences.
In 2015, the World Health Organisation (WHO) sounded a warning about the “health epidemic” facing Caribbean countries and urged governments to take urgent action to meet global targets to reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). According to the WHO, NCDs, also known as chronic diseases, are not passed from person to person. NCDs are of long duration and generally slow progression, resulting in 82 per cent of premature deaths (i.e. before 70 years) due to four main types: cardiovascular diseases (such as heart attacks and stroke), cancers, chronic respiratory diseases (such as chronic obstructed pulmonary disease and asthma, and diabetes.
NCDs are prevalent in low and middle-income countries, the category Guyana falls in, and this in part has to do with poverty, lifestyle choices and access to quality health care. Where people are seen as pivotal to development and development is hinged on the
environment (personal and external) within which the people operate, the WHO Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan, in launching the “Global status report on non-communicable diseases 2014” called for global efforts to tackle and change the course of NCDs epidemic.
In 2011, Guyana along with 189 countries, committed to global mechanisms to reduce the avoidable NCDs burden, including a global action plan for the prevention and control of NCDs 2013-2020. In 2013, the Ministry of Health prepared Guyana’s Strategic Plan, which is a public document. This document includes areas of Risk factors, NCDs progress
indicators; Framework for action; Surveillance; Public policy, advocacy and communication; Project Management and Results log frame. The responsibility for achieving these goals requires collaborative efforts and commitment. For whereas the WHO 2014 report states premature NCD deaths can be significantly reduced through government policies reducing tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diets and physical inactivity, and delivering universal health care, such success is reliant on the people’s involvement and support.
It is important to recognise that management of this epidemic requires proper planning that factors in the efficient and effective use of resources. To this end, fighting NCDs has to be holistic, inclusive of reliance on statistical evidence of pre-disposition to certain diseases among specific demographics (age, race, income, locale, etc). Government and corporate policies can take into consideration establishment of Health and Wellness centres at the workplace, where in addition to educating the workforce on healthy lifestyle practices, the facilitation of opportunities/incentive for engaging in physical fitness, screening for NCDs can also be done. If we are talking human wellness as a prerequisite for development, it is cheaper to invest in preventive care (education, changed lifestyles, consult and testing services) rather than on sick care.
Where poverty is prevalent in our society, the State has to invest in healthcare centres, community centres, recreational facilities and so forth. This responsibility can also be shared through community and corporate citizenship. Healthy dietary practices also go a far way in ensuring preventive care. This requires education to recognise and appreciate the nutritional value of food (including beverages). For instance, less sodium (salt) intake reduces/prevents high blood pressure, lower consumption of alcohol reduces the risk of liver disease, less intake of fat, oil, and LDL (bad cholesterol) reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, and so forth.
Some societies have laws and policies whereby the restaurant/fast food industry empowers customers on nutritional value as part of the menu card/board. This allows the customer to make informed choices. There are also instances of control (ban, reduction) of ingredients in publicly prepared food. In the instance of tobacco, it has moved from health warnings on the packets, to being banned in certain public spaces, given that users and bystanders are susceptible to lung cancer. Lifestyle changes are not easy. It requires will, commitment and determination; but ours is the collective duty and responsibility through public awareness, education and other forms of empowerment that would ensure Guyana plays its role in meeting the 2020 goal.