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Healthy Caribbean Coalition - Caricom's historic UN event against diseases

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First Published Jamaica Observer - BY RICKEY SINGH Observer Caribbean correspondent Friday, May 14, 2010

YESTERDAY'S scheduled meeting of the United Nations General Assembly was a history-making event for the governments and people of the 15-member Caribbean Community (Caricom).

It was a 'red-letter' occasion for this subregion because for the first time, the General Assembly would have endorsed a resolution -- initiated by Caricom -- urging special attention by the international community focused on battling noncommunicable diseases (NDCs) plaguing the lives of citizens.

Caricom's initiative against NCDs arose out of wide-ranging recommendations in a 2005 report by a 'blue-ribbon' 11-member Caribbean Commission on Health and Development.

The commission was headed by Sir George Alleyne, a former director of the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) and current chancellor of the University of the West Indies.

The endorsement by the General Assembly on the epidemic of noncommunicable diseases that are major contributors to deaths across this region, and beyond, supports a proposal for a high-level meeting on NCDs, with participation of Heads of State and Governments, in September 2011.

The meeting will benefit from extensive work by experts drawn from among the 192 member countries of the UN, and climax a series of initiatives -- regionally and internationally -- by Caricom focused on systematic efforts to significantly curb non-communicable diseases.

In contrast, for example, to HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis (TB), non-communicable diseases are viewed as major contributors to overall mortality in the Caribbean region with cardiovascular disease (like hypertension, coronary artery disease and stroke), diabetes, mental illness and cancer accounting for at least 51 per cent of the deaths towards the close of the 1990s.

The risk factors for this cluster of disease, according to the report by the Caribbean Commission on Health and Development, have high on the list obesity (currently a primary health challenge for adults and children), hypertension, diabetes and tobacco smoking.

Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Guyana and Barbados are considered to have high rates of non-communicable diseases that add to their social and economic development challenges, with budgetary expenditures running into many millions of dollars annually.

Two of the Caricom prime ministers, who have been actively involved with the Community Secretariat in aggressively promoting international support to battle NCDs that resulted in yesterday's historic endorsement at the UN, were St Kitts and Nevis' Dr Denzil Douglas and Trinidad and Tobago's Patrick Manning.

As recalled by Dr Karen Sealy, PAHO/WHO special advisor at the United Nations, Prime Minister Manning was a prime mover for the special Caricom Summit on NCDs in 2007, and subsequently in internationalising the issue when he hosted the 2009 Commonwealth Summit of Heads of Government.

Caricom's Foreign Ministers were to ensure specific action arrangements that eventually resulted in yesterday's endorsement of the UN General Assembly. Now the social and economic problems flowing from the epidemic of NCDs will be the substantive issue at the proposed high-level meeting of world leaders at the UN in September 2011.

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