Non-Communicable Diseases: How does Belize tackle them head on?

Non-Communicable Diseases: How does Belize tackle them head on?

Non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cancer and hypertension continue to ravage the Belizean population. The Ministry of Health and Wellness has called on everyone to shift their diets, incorporate daily exercise and reduce stress. If we don’t the country’s economic development is at risk due to the high numbers of premature deaths in people between the ages of 30 and 70. At the start of a two-day workshop on the impacts of NCDs, Dr. Melissa Diaz, the Ministry’s Director of Public Health & Wellness reiterate the need for us to change course. 

Dr.Melissa Diaz Musa, Director of Public Health and Wellness: “Actions like emphasizing good nutrition for example forms a critical part of our work in order to reduce obesity and all its complications. Training and updating disease management guidelines and monitoring of patient management also forms a big part of this process to ensure better patient experiences which is key compounded with improved medical care. According to WHO its Global Health Estimates 2020 revealed that deaths from NCDs are on the rise. Globally seven of the top ten causes of death in 2019 were due to NCDs which is an increase from four of the top ten in the year 2000. These seven causes accounted for 44% of all deaths or 80% of the top ten deaths. This is so significant. All NCDs together accounted for 74% of deaths globally in 2019 and the world’s biggest killer remains ischemic heart disease and ischemic heart disease is responsible for 16% of the world’s total death. The statistics from WHO continue to reveal that like advances against communicable diseases progress in preventing and controlling premature death from NCDs has been inadequate. So we’ve made great strides in communicable disease and now we’ve got to follow suit in NCDs. An estimated 15 million people world wide died of NCDs between the ages of 30 and 70 and these deaths are considered premature deaths. In 2020 an estimated two thirds of the global burden of disease has been caused by chronic NCDs directly associated with diet. In Belize according to the Ministry of Health and Wellness’ Epidemiology Unit the leading causes of death for the year 2021, and this is in descending order , were COVID19, diseases of the heart, malignant neoplasms, diabetes and fifth is assaults and homicides. The top three being the same for both males and females. COVID19 of course encompassed two of our priorities which are communicable diseases and our response to health emergencies and the other three were directly related to NCDs and its complications. Recovery from the COVID19 pandemic is ongoing currently however during this time great strides in NCD management have been lost.”

Dr. Diaz also discussed the impact COVID-19 had has on Belize’s response to non-communicable diseases, including mental health-related conditions. 

Dr.Melissa Diaz Musa, Director of Public Health and Wellness: “COVID19 has brought additional high risk to prevention, detection and management of persons with NCDs. The pandemic has affected Belize in so many ways both directly and indirectly leading to huge economic losses, gaps in food security and food safety as well as tremendous negative impacts on screening, management and management of chronic diseases including mental health and cancer. Globally plenty of us have become more anxious but for some COVID has sparked or amplified much more serious mental health problems. A great number of people have reported psychological distress and symptoms of depression, anxiety or post traumatic stress including us the health workers. The development of the implementation road map 2023/ 2030 for the global action plan for the prevention and control of NCDs has outlined key objectives which member states including Belize have agreed to and strengthening surveillance and identifying risk factors to NCDs remain a vital exercise for our country to truly build back better Surveillance is a compulsory part of any health system and strengthening surveillance across the health sector helps to detect and manage cases and situations early and of course surveillance goes hand in hand with research and this is also an area that we are very much trying to develop a lot more at the Ministry of Health and Wellness.”

The Pan American Health Organisation’s Health System & Services Advisor Dr. Edwin Bolastig also delivered remarks yesterday, underscoring the need for lifestyles to change and Belize’s advancements in responding to challenges associated with NCDs.

Dr. Edwin Bolastic, Health Systems and Services Advisor, PAHO/WHO: “Today Belize demonstrates its leadership in strengthening Belize’s capacity to conduct surveillance on NCDs and risk factors by assessing and building up on key sources of information to better monitor policies and programs and respond to global and regional commitments. Surveillance is the ongoing systematic collection, analysis and interpretation of health related data essential to the planning, implementation and evaluation of public health practice. It also plays a critical role in the management of NCDs and forms the basis for decision making. The workshop in the next few days aims to achieve the following objectives. One is to review and map the national surveillance capacity. Two is to review the global and regional commitments of NCDs  and its monitoring frameworks both the targets and indicators. Third is identify gaps and priorities to strengthen the national surveillance system and four is to develop work plans to build on the national surveillance system to monitor and evaluate the national NCD response. We hope that by strengthening surveillance we are able to prevent premature deaths from NCDs by enabling health systems to respond more effectively and equitably to the healthcare needs of the people and influencing public policies in sectors outside health that tackle shared risks namely tobacco use, unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, air pollution and the harmful use of alcohol. A decade and a half after the Port of Spain Declaration NCDs continue to present significant challenges not only to healthcare systems but also to national economies threatening to reverse developmental gains. The burden of these premature deaths result in cumulative economic loses of up to $7 Trillion US dollars projected over the next fifteen years.”

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