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Calculating the social impact of non-communicable diseases in children

Friday, March 21, 2014

Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI)  Sir George Alleyne has called for more advocacy on the social and human aspects of non-communicable diseases (NCD) in children. He made the comments at the opening of the NCD child conference at the Hyatt Regency, Port-of-Spain, yesterday. He said children’s right to health was enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which to date has 140 signatories, including all Caricom countries. He listed: “The consequences of diabetes on schooling, the social isolation and discrimination against the obese child and the ineffable tragedy of childhood cancer, a tragedy made starker by the  inequities in terms of access to adequate treatment and palliative care when it is needed.  


“Society tends to block out the images of the wheezing child who is prevented from taking part in the sports the young enjoy because of asthma,” Alleyne said. He said the concern for NCDs in the young must also have an impact on the financial costs as there was  “catastrophic spending occasioned by the cost of lifelong treatment.” But the data was a challenge, Alleyne said, as it was difficult to find good data on the economics of NCDs in children. “There are data on the economic losses when adults die in their productive years but children are not often included in these calculations. 


“One finds calculations on the extent to which NCDs can plunge a family into poverty but this is usually related to adults and not the cost for children.  “However, we do know a bit about one disease, as it is shown that the cost of treating a child with diabetes may be multiple times the cost of caring for a healthy child,” Alleyne said. Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan, who also spoke, said 2011 global health school survey showed in T&T 70 per cent of students usually drank one or more carbonated soft drinks daily. “This is dangerous as excessive amounts of empty calories are taken in the form of liquid that are not offset by a reduction of calories taken in as food,” Khan said.


He said the survey also showed that fewer than a quarter of adolescents participated in the recommended amount of daily exercise, with many not attending physical education at school. Saying the survey showed adults were failing in their responsibility to children, Khan said the survey showed that 30 per cent of teenagers between 13 and 15 were overweight. “In total, 17 per cent of school children in this country are overweight, 15 per cent are obese, and more than 40 per cent have at least one risk factor for developing diabetes,” Khan said. He said work was underway at the regional health authority level in the form of obesity clinics. The primary care child assessment unit at Barataria and soon at St James would accommodate referrals for overweight children, the Health Minister said.


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