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PAHO rep outlines ‘crisis’ in Bahamian health

Though the life expectancy of Bahamians has increased in recent years, they will spend over a decade of their life fighting chronic illness, due to the increase in non-communicable diseases (NCDs), according to Dr. Esther De Gourville, Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization country representative for The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos.

De Gourville, who spoke to the dangers of NCDs in a lengthy interview with The Nassau Guardian yesterday, described the current state of health in The Bahamas as a “country in crisis”.   

“We see in The Bahamas life expectancy has increased,” she said.

“It’s now [73] for men and [79] for women, but at the same time the statistics show that 11 of those years are going to be spent in illness because of the increase in non-communicable diseases.

“…I call that 11 years because of the toll of the onset of these chronic conditions.

“We are seeing early onset. If children are getting type 2 diabetes, you can imagine that they’re going to have decades of trying to control their blood glucose, of having to take medication to get their condition under control, of having to decrease their risk of glaucoma, of kidney complications, heart complications and so on; that’s what we’re looking at.

“There are people in this country, a large number of persons, thousands of persons, who are living with chronic diseases that are causing an impact on the enjoyment of their lives.”

According to the World Health Organization, NCDs like diabetes and cancer accounted for 74 percent of deaths in The Bahamas in 2016.

Nearly 1,800 people in The Bahamas died from NCDs that year — 890 men and 880 women.

“I would call it a crisis,” De Gourville said.

“I think if you are seeing 70 percent of your deaths due to non-communicable diseases, avoidable causes of death, that is a crisis and it’s a crisis that’s impacting the cost of your healthcare service; it’s impacting families whose resources are being diverted towards medical bills.

“So, I would call it a crisis and I agree with the minister’s description of a ‘tsunami’ because we’re seeing children manifesting non-communicable diseases and this could only be to the detriment of the country.”

According to data from the World Population Review, The Bahamas has been ranked as the most obese country in the Caribbean.

The data, which was released in March, shows that The Bahamas ranks 21st in most obese countries in the world.

“That’s a very depressing situation,” De Gourville continued.

“You have the dubious honor of being the most overweight people in the region of the Americas. You number, I believe, 12 on the global list for conditions such as diabetes, and it’s not a good situation.

“Some 60 to 70 percent of persons are overweight, and about half of those people are actually classified as obese.”

She once again noted that this health risk is not restricted to adults, which is even more worrisome, largely because many of these conditions and deaths related to these conditions are completely avoidable with serious lifestyle changes.

“Clearly with this high level of non-communicable diseases, which are considered, for the most part, to be preventable, we need people to focus on prevention,” De Gourville added.

“Prevention in the form of improving nutrition. Prevention in the form of increasing physical activity, decreasing the use of tobacco and cigarettes and decreasing the consumption of alcohol.

“Those are the main strategies to reduce the risk factors that lead to non-communicable diseases.”

STEPS

Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands has said the government is continuing its efforts to stop the “tsunami” of NCD-related deaths.

The Ministry of Health has collaborated with PAHO in conducting a STEPS 2019 survey on seven islands to assess health habits and risk factors for the diseases.

The household survey, similar to the national census, collects information on the health habits of Bahamians and their risk factors for chronic NCDs like diabetes, hypertension, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases; tobacco use, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, excessive alcohol consumption, obesity and high blood pressure are some of the risk factors associated with NCDs.

The information will be used to not only inform the health sector about disease prevalence, but to also advise on the types of health services needed to be delivered to the population.

Sloan Smith

Staff Reporter at The Nassau Guardian
Sloan covers national news for The Nassau Guardian. Sloan officially joined the news team in September 2016 but interned at The Nassau Guardian while studying journalism at the University of The Bahamas.
Education: Vrije Universiteit Brussel (University of Brussels), MA in Mass Communications

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