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Healthy Caribbean Coalition - Health ministry chastised for slow action on tobacco control, national nutrition programme

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First Published Jamaica Observer - Monday, September 13, 2010 - ALICIA DUNKLEY Senior staff reporter dunkleya@jamaicaobserver.com

MEMBER of Parliament for Central Kingston Ronald "Ronnie" Thwaites has blasted the Ministry of Health for what he said was its sluggish approach to pushing for legislation to ban smoking in public spaces and the crafting of a national nutrition policy.

According to the MP, "the ministry is dilly dallying, on the control of tobacco smoking in public spaces", but is "spending tens of millions in dealing with the consequences of tobacco use in all of the diseases it causes."

"The Ministry of Health is dilly-dallying on a national nutrition programme, especially for school children, and we are dealing with the ill consequences... of obesity, malnutrition in the education system," Thwaites said.

The MP's remarks came during last Wednesday's meeting of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee of Parliament at Gordon House in Kingston, where members were continuing their deliberations on the Public Sector Master Rationalisation Plan, contained in a green paper laid in Parliament recently.

But rebutting Thwaites' claims, permanent secretary in the health ministry, Dr Jean Dixon, told the committee that work was progressing on the tobacco legislation. As regards the nutrition policy, she called for Jamaicans to play a more active role in matters of their health.

"We also have to take responsibility at the individual level, the whole issue of eating right; countries with massive amounts of resources (that) have been trying to curb obesity particularly in the young and the side effects of poor nutrition have not been able to do it through throwing more resources at it. I think, as a people, each of us must assume personal responsibility. We must eat right and I think that is the message we must get out," Dr Dixon noted.

Earlier in the meeting, the permanent secretary commented on plans for the reorganisation of the ministry, saying it could realise "significant improvements and savings in this area".

"There are some fundamental issues, but we would certainly like to caution that any savings we make we would like to have it reinvested to improve the quality and the effectiveness of the services we are going to be offering to the public," she said.

In the meantime, there might be some tension between the ministry and the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) over recommendations that the council's functions be absorbed by the ministry. Executive Director of the NCDA Michael Tucker argued before the committee last week that the recommendation was ill-informed.

Wednesday, Dr Dixon said there was a split in opinions.

"We do have a disagreement with the position of the National Council on Drug Abuse. We are committed entirely to the mandate that the Council has, but we believe that there are additional resources that could be leveraged and if we look at some activities they are engaged in and that other units in the ministry are engaged in, we believe that could enhance the work they do. Mr Tucker does not share that view," she said.

The ministry also placed on record concerns over the proposed transfer of the Veterinary Public Health Service to the Ministry of Agriculture. According to Dr Dixon, the ministry had detailed the risks involved and had also made recommendations with respect to institutional arrangements that must be entrenched if the decision is carried through.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Sheila Campbell-Forrester said the recommendation to transfer had weaknesses.

"In the final analysis, we have been the ones doing the epidemiology outbreak surveillance and also making sure human health is preserved and diseases prevented and so there must be some aspects of the Veterinary Public Health that are retained, from a surveillance point of view, in the Ministry of Health. So it can't be normal that it resides in the Ministry of Agriculture. We need to sit and decide what will remain in the Ministry of Health and what will reside with the Ministry of Agriculture because at the end of the day the Ministry of Health is the agency called on when persons are ill," she said.

www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Health-ministry-chastised-for-slow-action-on-tobacco-control-national-nutrition-programme_7945920

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