Greetings my fellow citizens and residents,
This week is being celebrated as the Global Week of Action on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) with the theme “Bridging the Care Gap”. This Global Week of Action on NCDs is celebrated each year with the aim of ensuring that the NCD response gets the attention required everywhere and for everyone. This year, 2023, the message being disseminated globally is, “Now is the moment for caring”.
Now is the moment to act on Universal Health Coverage (UHC) to ensure that everyone has access to needed health care regardless of their ability to pay, by 2030. This message is being sent to policymakers, governments, donors, international agencies, private sector entities, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). All stakeholders must adopt an integrated approach in the response to NCDs. As a collective, we hope that this week’s activities will motivate us to tackle the NCD challenge with urgency to ensure good health for all our people.
Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs), including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and chronic respiratory diseases are major health challenges globally, regionally, and locally. NCDs account for over 70% of all deaths worldwide. Low- and middle-income countries are hit the hardest. Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) account for 80.7 % of all deaths in the Americas, with the Caribbean showing the highest rates. More than a third or 36.2% of the NCD deaths in the Region of the Americas occurred prematurely in persons younger than 70 years, equivalent to 2.1 million deaths in 2019.
In St. Kitts and Nevis, the situation is similar. The NCDs – diabetes and hypertension are the leading causes of morbidity in the Federation. Between 2017 and 2021, NCDs accounted for 84.2 % of the deaths reported. The NCDs are our biggest health challenge and we must combat this health problem now.
Your government recognizes that the time to act on NCDs and Universal Health Coverage (UHC) is now. I believe that health care must be accessible to all. Everyone in the Federation should have access to health services when and where they need them without financial hardship. UHC is one of my priorities.
To this end, your government, in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and experts from the University of the West Indies – St Augustine Campus, is in the process of establishing a National Health Insurance Scheme (NHI) whereby a package of essential health services including NCD management and care will be made accessible to everyone in the Federation. The implementation of the NHI scheme will be just one intervention to combat the NCD challenge.
The Ministry of Health’s (MOH) response to the NCD challenge is comprehensive and has a three-pronged approach. The aim is to: (1) reduce the burden of NCDs by promoting healthy lifestyles; (2) reduce the prevalence of the common NCD risk factors and (3) provide integrated evidenced-based treatment options. Some of the interventions implemented by the MOH to combat the burden of NCDs in the Federation include:
- Implementation of the SKN Moves. This program has been instrumental in creating a healthy lifestyle culture in the Federation that is centered on healthy eating practices, regular physical activity, and regular health checks. This program continues to expand each year.
- Policy development: The MOH is developing a Sugar-Sweetened Beverage (SSB) policy aimed at reducing consumption of SSBs and a tobacco policy aimed at reducing tobacco use and reducing exposure to secondhand smoke.
- Scaling up public education and health promotion campaigns using all media platforms to encourage healthy lifestyle, prevention, and control of NCDs. This was accomplished through the recruitment of communications personnel and the procurement of new production equipment.
- Hosting outreach screening sessions in workplaces and communities to identify persons with NCDs and link them with care. In 2022, 138 outreach sessions were conducted in the Federation with 6,348 persons screened.
The next step will be to scale up the treatment and management of patients who are already diagnosed with non-communicable diseases through the launch of the HEARTS Initiative. The HEARTS initiative is a standardized program of care for the evidence-based management and control of cardiovascular disease and its risk factors.
The Ministry of Health continues to invest its resources into its NCD response. We have accomplished much, however, it is a journey, and we still have much work to be done. I reaffirm my commitment to implementing the NHI scheme and augmenting the national NCD response.
The Ministry of Health welcomes this partnership with Lake Health and Wellbeing, which serves as the secretariat and representative of the NCD Alliance in the Federation of St. Kitts & Nevis. The Ministry of Health continues to strengthen its partnerships with regional and international health partners and is committed to forging new partnerships with NGOs and civil society because we know that an integrated approach is necessary to win this battle.
I fully understand that the time for caring is now.
The time to act on UHC is now.
The time to intensify the fight against the NCDs is now.
Let us continue to work together in order to win this fight.