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"Non-communicable diseases kill 34 million people every year"
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"Non-communicable diseases kill 34 million people every year"

Non-communicable diseases kill more than 34 million people globally and account for three quarters of all deaths in the Caribbean. Yet, with simple improvements in diet and exercise and properly resourced treatment, millions of lives could be saved. Keresa Arnold, 25, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Jamaica, Kingston, reports.

Young persons should play a greater role in the prevention and control of chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – that was the message from public health experts, civil society members, journalists and youths at a two-day workshop in Barbados earlier this month.

Organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), the workshop was aimed to promote dialogue among different interest groups and equip journalists to effectively report on NCDs.

Diabetes, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and cardiovascular disease are the leading NCDs in the region, and kill more than 34 million people across the world each year. More than 66 per cent of those deaths occur in developing countries, with associated risk factors such as lack of exercise, poor diet, tobacco use and harmful use of alcohol. According to PAHO, NCDs account for 74 per cent of all deaths in the Caribbean.

Speaking at the workshop, attendees ─ including Commonwealth Correspondents ─ stressed the importance of packaging NCD-related information in youth-friendly ways, especially since young persons are among the most vulnerable to the future increase of NCDs. Many of these diseases can, however, be prevented if healthy lifestyle choices are practiced from an early age.

Dr. Tomo Kanda, advisor on NCDs at the PAHO office for Eastern Caribbean countries, said young persons should understand their role in the fight against NCDs. “Young people hardly imagine that they will get chronic diseases because of their age. Controlling NCDs is all about prevention and this prevention has to be started as early as possible,” she said.

Risk factors, Dr. Kanda continued, can start developing even before birth, continuing throughout the life of an individual. Between zero to college years and beyond, these include food choices such as sugars. And as individuals enter and leave college, they become less physically active, increase the use of alcohol, adopt an unhealthy diet and experience increased stress, among other factors.

This makes it important for young persons to be educated about the risk factors and how to prevent and control them, in order to reduce the incidences of NCDs in the region. For this to happen, youths must be engaged in a meaningful way.

“We really wanted to include young people in every step of that process and we’ve decided to now work with the media and young journalists who will also be reporting on these issues… you are kind of the experts and know what people want and what the issues are in your generation, and [know] the best way to communicate health messages,” said Vanessa Baugh, advisor at the Commonwealth Secretariat.

This is the first Caribbean workshop on NCDs directed at the media, and it comes at a time when heads of government will be meeting in New York this September at a UN High Level Meeting on NCDs.

This is the second such meeting on a health-related issue, with the first being about HIV & AIDS. Caribbean interests are hoping that their leaders will be able to bring attention to the epidemic and receive, among other things, a political declaration of commitment for coordinated, multi-sectoral action.

About me:

“I am a freelance journalist, public relations practitioner, social media enthusiast and blogger who believes in the power of communication in effecting social and political change. In 2007, I was nominated for a Prime Minister’s Youth Award for excellence in journalism.

“I strongly believe in the power of youth in bringing about significant change. To this end, it is crucial that countries that are serious about sustainable development will seek to engage youth in policy-making decisions.”

Read another of my articles here: “The issue of HIV/AIDS is one that has received significant attention since it was first discovered in the 1980s…”

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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