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Non-Communicable Diseases in the Caribbean RegionNon-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) are now causing more damage than communicable diseases, globally killing approximately 40 million persons annually, three-quarters of which occur in low and middle-income countries. Cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease and mental disorders have now been confirmed as the leading causes of death worldwide.

Unfortunately, this reality is no different in the Caribbean. According to the Pan American Journal of Public Health, every year 16,000 persons prematurely succumb to Non-Communicable Diseases in the Caribbean region. In fact, over 70% of all deaths in the region can be traced back to an NCD. Such a record has lasting effects, significantly stunting economic growth and productivity, and has been brought to the alarming attention of health authorities. While the exact reasons for such high mortality rates still remain an ongoing point of research and discussion, risk factors, including tobacco smoking, harmful use of alcohol, poor diet and physical instability, have been found to significantly contribute to the mortality of NCDs in the Caribbean Region. Furthermore, the lack of improvement in the quality of available health care has also been identified as one of the leading causes of the rise in NCD prevalence, case-fatality rate and mortality burden in the Caribbean region.

Investment in Prevention and Control of NCDs

For a long time, regional leaders wrote off deaths associated with NCD as unavoidable. However, the impacts of the NCD epidemic in the region have been found to be much more far-reaching than just health and well-being. Moreover, the existing NCD epidemic has served as a catalyst for negative ripple effects on the economies, productivity and quality of life in the region. Investing in the prevention and control of NCDs is therefore needed to keep other indicators of economic growth and development in check.

Existing Policy Action to Address the NCD Epidemic

Caribbean leaders have put forward outstanding effort and measurements to curb the growing costs associated with NCDs. While sticking with the timeline has proven to be quite a challenge, the regional health authorities have set the following paths and goals toward slowing the progression of its NCD epidemic:

  • The 2007 Mandates of the Port of Spain Declaration (POSD): This includes 27 commitments to action in the areas of reducing NCD risk factors, which include improving healthcare awareness and quality, increasing development of appropriate legislative frameworks and establishing NCD commissions to provide effective monitoring and evaluation of NCD prevention and control efforts.
  • The World Health Organization’s Best Buys/Investments: WHO has designed a set of affordable, cost-effective and evidence-based interventions termed the “WHO Best Buys” to achieve the Sustainable Development Target of 30% reduction of premature NCD related deaths by 2030. Made up of six policy target areas: tobacco use, harmful alcohol use, poor diet, low physical activity, management of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes and cancer management, the regional health authorities have set out to generate a $7 yield in health care costs for every $1 invested in Caribbean health care reform by 2030. Additionally, with 16 areas of targeted intervention to guide the policy decisions of each country in the region, countries can design their health policy to address their specific NCD related challenges.
  • Global WHO 25 x25 Strategy: After the 2007 mandate of the POSD in the Caribbean, the World Health Assembly set a global target of a 25% reduction in NCD related mortality by 2025. Set as a part of the WHO’s Global NCD Action Plan 2013-2020, the WHO detailed a total of nine voluntary national targets, with reduced mortality from NCDs and stopping the rise in diabetes and obesity being among the most urgent. This is set to be done through directed health and public policy, focusing on social, political and economic determinants of NCDs in the Caribbean Region.

With continued health policy effort and focus, both the Caribbean Region and the world at large will be able to successfully control this Non-Communicable Diseases epidemic.

Rebecca Harris
Photo: Flickr

demand for child rightsWith 25% of Latin America’s population being under the age of 15, an increased demand for child rights is inevitable. As a result, Latin America and the Caribbean have seen gradual implementations of protection for children under the law. Countries in these regions have seen improvements spanning from a growing economy to quality health care.

Health Improvements for Children

One immediate causes for the demand in children’s rights is because of the abuse that many children in impoverished countries endure. Some issues that exemplify the need for child rights are sexual abuse, drug and alcohol consumption and child labor. The health care systems in Latin American countries are responding.

For example, increased demand for child rights in places such as Argentina and Peru has resulted in more representation for children in health care services. Argentina has had children’s rights written in law since 1994. Now, with children included in health plans, child mortality rates have decreased to 9.9 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2018, compared to 12.6 just five years earlier.

Strengthening Written Law

Previously, many children in these countries were not seen as separate individuals until they reached adult age. However, increased children’s rights in certain Latin American and Caribbean countries have improved the livelihoods of the underaged. Children’s rights in Latin America and all across the world have moved to the forefront of many political agendas thanks to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and active citizens.

Countries such as El Salvador have shown that the demand for child rights have proved their international leadership on the issue. There are more than 15 comprehensive laws within the country protecting children and almost 20 international laws protecting El Salvadoran children.

Though the numerous laws, in theory, protect the children, it is not as easy to enforce the laws. A large discrepancy still remains between the sentiment and enforcement of law for the protection of children. Legislature rendered ineffective through lack of enforcement “allows perpetrators of violence against children and adolescents to continue committing the same crimes with no fear of prosecution or punishment.

The BiCE

One organization that has made child rights in Latin America a priority is BiCE, the International Catholic Child Bureau. The organization’s main goal is the preservation of child rights in different countries in Latin American and around the world. Current field projects take place in countries such as Ecuador, Guatemala and Peru. Most of the projects focus on fighting sexual abuse of children.

BiCE’s projects have many goals that ensure the safety of a child. For the programs fighting sexual abuse, they offer therapy services for recovery. They also train people to learn advocacy techniques for children’s rights. Over 1,000 children in Peru have received help from BiCE and the organization continues to do more in other countries in Latin America.

Most countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have written laws and statutes that protect children. However, this has not proved to be enough for the safety of children in these countries. There have been health improvements and decreased poverty rates, but more still needs to be done to enforce the written laws.

Josie Collier
Photo: Flickr