When working to eliminate poverty, understanding public health concerns in regions such as Grenada is critical. Communicable diseases such as measles, polio and smallpox on this Caribbean island are less common today than they once were as a result of vaccinations and other public health strategies. Noncommunicable and preventative diseases, however, have been of more concern to health workers and government officials in the country.
The World Health Organization (WHO), the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) have found that the most prevalent diseases in Grenada are, in no particular order:
- Cancer is a leading cause of death in Grenada. Roughly three percent of Grenadians die from this disease yearly. Prostate cancer is especially deadly, accounting for about 17 percent of those deaths. Local doctors and organizations have strived to raise awareness and money for the Grenada Cancer Society. The annual Walk for the Cure, for example, is hosted by the First Caribbean International Bank and helps give assistance to cancer patients in need.
- Respiratory diseases and infections are also among the leading causes of death and disability in Grenada. During a 2010 PAHO study of discharge data at St. George’s General Hospital, respiratory illnesses made up 4.9 percent of visits. About 1.5 percent of the population dies yearly from lower respiratory infections, a rate that is significantly higher than that of similar countries. Risk factors include air pollution and tobacco smoke.
- Cardiovascular diseases are very common in Grenada, and ischemic heart disease is the most common form found in the country. IHME estimates that 2.4 percent of people die yearly from this form of heart disease. And, although fewer people die from it annually, ischemic heart disease still remains a leading cause of death. Those with poor diet or physical inactivity are more at risk of cardiovascular disease. The Grenada Heart Project is critical in raising awareness and helping the sick.
- Hypertension is among the diseases in Grenada that adults are most commonly diagnosed with. The morbidity rate of hypertension for adults ages 20 to 59 is 7.25 percent and for the elderly is 48.7 percent. In the PAHO hospital study mentioned above, this health problem led to 12.9 percent of hospital visits. Poor diet and physical inactivity are risk factors for hypertension. To reduce the risk of hypertension, the Grenada Food and Nutrition Council recommends better lifestyle choices such as eating healthier, being more physically active and quitting smoking. The Grenada Heart Project also focuses on this issue.
- Diabetes is another disease that adults are most commonly diagnosed with. Diabetes affects about 9.4 percent of adults ages 20 to 59 and 27 percent of the elderly. About 1.7 percent of Grenadians die from this disease yearly, which is significantly higher than that of similar countries. The PAHO hospital study found that diabetes accounted for 27 percent of doctor’s visits. The risk of this disease has been seen to increase with age and if previously diagnosed in the family. Again, poor diet and physical inactivity are risk factors for diabetes. The Grenada Diabetes Association is a key decision-maker working to decrease the death rates and prevalence of diabetes in the country.
- Cerebrovascular disease is another leading cause of death and disability in Grenada. Roughly two percent of the population dies every year from this illness, another mortality rate that is significantly higher than that of similar countries. As with many of the above diseases, poor dietary choices and physical inactivity increase chances of cerebrovascular disease.
Many health workers hope that, by addressing obesity, a preventative condition that has become more widespread in the country, they can decrease the prevalence of noncommunicable diseases in Grenada such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and cerebrovascular disease. One way to combat these health problems is to focus on eating habits and physical activity, both critical factors that affect obesity.
Fighting these diseases in Grenada and around the world has not and will not be easy, but people and organizations are continuing to work together to raise awareness for prevention, treatments and cures.
– Francesca Montalto