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Minister on T&T’s diabetes rating: It’s a crown of thorns

Thursday, February 25, 2016
Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh, second from right, chats with Caricom representative Dr Rudy Cummings during yesterday’s workshop hosted by UWI, titled Uniting to Stop the Epidemic of NDCs, at Hilton Trinidad and Conference Centre, Port-of-Spain. Also in photo are Jessie Schutt-Aine of PAHO, left, and Dr Zee Leung. PHOTO: SHIRLEY BAHADUR

Childhood obesity has grown by 100 per cent over the last ten to 15 years and this is frightening as it can easily equate to more limbs being amputated due to diabetes at the adult stage says Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh. 

He said so while fielding questions from members of the media after UWI's opening ceremony of Uniting to Stop the Epidemic of NCDs — Time to Accelerate Action at the Hilton Trinidad and Conference Centre, Port-of-Spain, yesterday.

Saying people were dying before the age of 70 due to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) as a result of their lifestyle, Deyalsingh said $40 billion was spent on health care from 2005 to 2016 but it has all been wasted. 

“We amputate more legs today than we did 20 years ago. We have to reorient the way that we think about nutrition,” Deyalsingh said. He said the enemy was not only fast foods but was also in the home when people ate white bread and white rice. In urging the population to take responsibility for its heath, the minister said an intervention must also be sought with children in schools regarding healthier eating practices.

That, he said, had already begun as discussions  have taken place with soft drink manufactures to reduce sugar. 

“If I am minister of health for the obese diabetic child today I don’t have to be the minister of health care for that same child 20 years from now when they present to a hospital to chop off their legs because they have uncontrolled diabetes.

“But the intervention that is needed is greater than our collective abilities so far because in T&T we have made absolutely little or no progress in controlling the epidemic of diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol,” Deyalsingh said.

On the way forward he said the cycle of societal and genetic factors that made T&T a leader in diabetes must be broken.

“This crown that T&T wears as the leader in diabetes, this trophy that we have as being first in the region when it comes to rates of diabetes... that is a crown of thorns,” Deyalsingh added. He said the ministry was moving to implement policy which was driven by data as a way of dealing with the issue.

“For us to tackle non communicable diseases it is going to take a long term intervention into our cultural habits... what we eat, how we eat and where we eat,” Deyalsingh said. He said the Government’s School Feeding Programme had also been advised what meals should or should not be given to children.

Greater corporate responsibility, the minister urged, was also of utmost importance as companies too have a part to play in the reduction of sugar and high fructose in drinks and other products. He said if that was achieved results would be derived from between six months to a year.

“Sugar is not the only culprit. The other culprit is inactivity. It has to be society voluntarily deciding this is where we want to go,” Deyalsingh added.

Regarding two samples taken from a mother and son from Freeport which was sent to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) to test for Zika, Deyalsingh said the results were not ready.

Highest mortality rate

Dr Alafia Samuels who chaired the event said in the Caribbean T&T had the highest rate of NCD mortality and the highest rate of premature NCD mortality in the region. "People are dying between 30 and 65. This is unsustainable from both the health and development perspective.

"Our response must be evidence informed from a transparent assessment process ," Samuels added.