Professor Thelma Alafia Samuels
Professor Thelma Alafia Samuels

Professor discusses health implications of NCDs in Caribbean


BASSETERRE, St. Kitts – While in St. Kitts to attend the 63rd CARPHA (Caribbean Public Health Agency) Health Research Conference June 14-16 at the St. Kitts Marriott Resort, Professor Thelma Alafia Samuels made a special appearance on the government’s weekly radio and television programme “Working for You” June 13 to discuss the serious impact of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) on populations and health systems in the Caribbean.

“In the whole region of the Americas, the Caribbean has the worst epidemic of chronic diseases and has the highest rates of premature mortality,” said Samuels as she highlighted that in the Caribbean, approximately half of the people who die before the age of 70 die from an NCD.

She explained that NCDs have tremendous economic implications on the public health sector in the Caribbean, where a lot of money has to be pumped into treating people. These NCDs could be hypertension, diabetes, strokes, cancer, cardiovascular diseases and respiratory illnesses. A burden is being placed on health resources, additionally, sick people are less productive in the workforce, leading to a fall in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The social cost on families is also immeasurable because it redounds to less income in the family and more time taking care of sick family members.

“People are now very concerned about the economic aspect,” she said. “In fact, the World Economics Federation calls NCDs the biggest threat to economic development that the world currently faces.”

Samuels also noted that the environment plays a key role in the development of NCDs in younger people. She said that companies that advertise sugar-sweetened beverages and unhealthy food options are influencing the food choices that people are making, which ultimately lead to ill health.

“The other economic part of it that we have to talk about is what has been coined commercial determinants of health,” she said. “You have big companies that make profit by selling foods that are detrimental to health that cause people to get sick and die early.”

She said that it is important for governments to have clear public health policies and that all relevant ministries should be on board with these policies so that they can create a united front to combat the concerns of NCDs in the country.

“There needs to be some kind of political resolution to these kinds of problems because it is one government and the government needs to decide what the priorities are,” she said.

Professor Samuels, MBBS, MPH, PhD, is the director of the George Alleyne Chronic Disease Research Centre; deputy dean for Research and Graduate Programmes, faculty of Medical Sciences, University of the West Indies (UWI), Cave Hill campus, Barbados; and co-principal investigator of the IDRC (International Development Research Centre, Canada) funded evaluation of the CARICOM Heads of Government 2007 NCD Summit Declaration.