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Prevalence of Non-Communicable Diseases in the Caribbean Exacerbating Pandemic’s Impact and Hindering Sustainable Development

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Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of ECLAC, and Camillo Gonsalves, Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Information Technology of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, led a seminar on this issue prior to the 20th meeting of the Monitoring Committee of the Caribbean Development and Cooperation Committee

November 5, 2021 – The high prevalence of non-communicable diseases in the Caribbean – such as high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer – is exacerbating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and hindering the subregion’s progress towards achieving sustainable development due to their multiple health, economic and social consequences, according to the authorities, representatives of international organizations and specialists participating today in a virtual event organized by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) prior to the Twentieth meeting of the Monitoring Committee of the Caribbean Development and Cooperation Committee (CDCC), to be held on Friday, November 5.

The Seminar on non-communicable diseases and their impact on sustainable development in the Caribbean was inaugurated by Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of ECLAC, and Camillo Gonsalves, Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Information Technology of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. The moderator was Diane Quarless, Director of ECLAC’s Subregional Headquarters for the Caribbean, located in Port-of-Spain.

“Not only does the COVID-19 pandemic continue to rage in the Caribbean,” Alicia Bárcena affirmed upon emphasizing that it is “one of the subregions of the world with the highest prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).”

Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that NCDs are the main cause of death in the subregion’s countries, ranging from 57% in Haiti to 83% in Barbados, she stated. In each Caribbean country, more than half of all deaths annually can be attributed to non-communicable diseases, which also contribute significantly to disability, ECLAC’s Executive Secretary warned.

The pandemic has aggravated the risks that people with non-communicable diseases face: not only do they continue to be at greater risk of dying or suffering severe illness from COVID-19 infection, they also have been affected by interruptions in health care due to services being overburdened, Bárcena explained.

In this context, the high-level United Nations representative called for accelerating vaccination efforts. The rate of full vaccination in the Caribbean amounts to 35.2%, with great heterogeneity between countries. This percentage, she indicated, is below the global rate (39.0%) and that of Latin America (47.5%).

“The entire region of Latin America and the Caribbean should strengthen production, distribution and access to medicines and vaccines. To achieve this, on September 18, ECLAC presented the Plan for self-sufficiency in health matters requested by the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). We are moving from design to implementation of the plan, with focal points in all the countries and various meetings planned for the coming months. We hope the Caribbean will join us,” Bárcena stated.

In his remarks, Minister Camillo Gonsalves of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines expressed appreciation for the opportunity to address the problem of non-communicable diseases at a time when all Caribbean countries are fighting the pandemic and many of their ministers and leaders are talking about climate change and the subregion’s future in the framework of the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 26).

“Non-communicable diseases are responsible for 6 of the 10 main causes of death in the subregion” and they entail a heavy economic cost for governments, due to high health expenditures, as well as for people, Minister Gonsalves said. NCDs have a disproportionate impact on people living in poverty, which means that addressing them constitutes a development challenge for the Caribbean, which is also true for other phenomena such as climate change, he noted.

“Non-communicable diseases are within our control, they are preventable,” the Minister acknowledged, affirming that current policies are not effective because they are not sufficiently focused on prevention, nor do they include cross-sector and coordinated approaches.

The seminar’s first panel featured remarks by Kenneth George, Chief Medical Officer of Barbados; Fitzroy Henry, Professor at the College of Health Sciences of the University of Technology of Jamaica; Kavita Singh, Senior Research Scientist at the Public Health Foundation of India; and Francis Morey, Deputy Director of Health Services of Belize; while Simon Anderson, Professor and Director of the George Alleyne Chronic Disease Research Center at The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus Barbados, acted as moderator. Subsequently, Joy St. John, Executive Director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency, led a discussion.

Participating in the second and final panel were Anselm Hennis, Director of the Department of Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO/WHO); Rachel Nugent, Vice President of Global Noncommunicable Diseases at RTI International; Stanley Lalta, from the Centre for Health Economics of The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus, Trinidad and Tobago; and Rosa Sandoval, Coordinator of the Economics of NCDs Team at PAHO. Acting as moderator was Abdullahi Abdulkadri, an official at ECLAC’s Subregional Headquarters for the Caribbean.

The specialists called on governments to invest in a comprehensive approach to NCDs, with a focus on strengthening primary care and preventing risk factors such as an unsuitable diet, physical inactivity and tobacco and alcohol abuse. They also urged for taking growing mental health problems into consideration.

At the close of the event, Alicia Bárcena summed up what had been discussed, delivering 10 messages. First, she said, COVID-19 was a wake-up call about the importance of addressing non-communicable diseases. Because care and treatment for NCDs were reduced during the pandemic, it is urgently necessary to support the efforts of health services with innovations in telemedicine and other solutions, she sustained.  She also posed the need to utilize all available tools to foster healthy lifestyles, strengthen primary health care and community-based programs, and promote food security, nutrition-sensitive social protection and support for farmers.

Bárcena further contended that it is critical to achieve greater equity in access to essential medicines, reduced waiting times and reduced out-of-pocket payment burdens for people, while also expanding partnerships with academic institutions in the Caribbean and reinforcing inter-agency collaboration. The idea of using taxes on unhealthy products is also generating interest and should be carefully weighed using a sound socioeconomic analysis, she added.

To procure a resilient post-pandemic recovery, Caribbean countries need a healthy and productive workforce, the Commission’s Executive Secretary stressed. The GDP of the Caribbean dropped by 7.7% in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, compounding the high rates of indebtedness faced by the subregion’s countries. ECLAC estimates that in 2021, the Caribbean’s GDP will only grow by 4.1%.

“By taking an economic approach to the analysis of the NCD problem, we hope that policies aimed at promoting health and preventing disease will not only be cost-effective but that they may also be cost-saving, thereby making government health expenditures more effective,” Bárcena emphasized. This is a problem for society as a whole, which must be addressed beyond the health field. “Interventions on non-communicable diseases are within our reach. You can count on ECLAC.”

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Bahamas and Germany Enter Agreement to Facilitate Direct Airlift

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#TheBahamas, December 4, 2021 – The governments of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, and of the Federal Republic of Germany entered into a technical bilateral Heads of Agreement aimed at fostering closer ties between both countries.  A central feature is an Air Traffic Agreement to facilitate direct flights from Germany to The Bahamas, which would in turn facilitate movement of goods and services, ease of direct shipment as opposed to going through a third country, among other things.

The HOA was signed during a ceremony at the Ministry of Works & Utilities on Tuesday, November 30, 2021.  The Hon Alfred Sears, who served as Acting Minister of Tourism, Investments & Aviation, and His Excellency Dr. Stefan Keil, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to The Bahamas signed the agreement.  Also present were: Permanent Secretary Reginald Saunders, Ministry of Tourism Investment & Aviation; Luther Smith, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Works & Utilities; Bacchus Rolle, Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Works & Utilities; Melanie Roach, Director of Public Works; and Carl Christian Illing, Honorary Consul of the Federal Republic of Germany, Bahamas.

Mr. Sears said it was a pleasure both countries entered into such an agreement, which he deemed would bring together, two peoples.

The Bahamas and Germany formed diplomatic ties in 1974 and have enjoyed successes in commercial enterprise, tourism and family ties as many Bahamians live in Germany.

“This relationship has been growing and this (agreement) represents the ease of travel, business and social interaction between our two countries,” Mr. Sears said, adding that Bahamians consume and use German products namely vehicles, pharmaceuticals and other items.

In other areas, Mr. Sears noted that The Bahamas is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world susceptible to effects of global warming. He thanked Germany for its role in the recent COP26 held in Glasgow, Scotland, during which that country pledged some twenty million Euros for disaster risk reduction initiatives.

He recalled Hurricane Dorian, which struck Abaco and Grand Bahama from September 1-3, 2019 and, as a result, residents in the path experienced storm surges 20 feet high, many lives were lost, clinics, other public buildings and infrastructure were damaged and/or destroyed, and The Bahamas lost a large portion of its GDP.

“The commitment of Germany resonates with us,” Mr. Sears said, “as we rebuild and build the infrastructure stronger.”

The minister shared the possibility of acquiring more vehicles from Germany, targeting more stopover visitors from there with projection of higher spend and enjoyment of more cultural activities.  Permanent Secretary Saunders supported this, by confirming that direct air travel is being facilitated through the agreement.

Ambassador Keil too acknowledged the close relationship between both countries, and that the technical agreement will further strengthen those ties.

 

By Lindsay Thompson

BIS

Photo Caption: Photos show Minister Sears and Ambassador Keil during the signing ceremony at the Ministry of Works & Utilities, November 30, 2021.

(BIS Photos/Yontalay Bowe)

 

 

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Guys, Have 2 Minutes? Here’s How to Check Yourself for Testicular Cancer

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Testicular cancer is a rare form of cancer for men in The Bahamas.  It is highly curable — if you know it’s there!

 

November 30, 2021 – Men…how often do you perform a self-exam to check yourselves for testicular cancer?

While it’s a relatively rare form of cancer, young men aren’t exempt – in fact, testicular cancer occurs most often in young and middle-aged men. The good news is, it can usually be treated successfully.

The most common symptom of testicular cancer is a lump on your testicle. But that’s not the only sign of this disease.

Men who have testicular cancer may experience several different kinds of symptoms, says oncologist Timothy Gilligan, MD, a Medical Oncologist at Cleveland Clinic who specializes in treating testicular cancer.

Testicular cancer most frequently strikes men younger than age 44, and is the most commonly diagnosed cancer for men ages 15 to 34. It is almost always curable if found early, Dr. Gilligan says, and it is usually curable even when at a later stage. So it’s important to know signs and symptoms.

Here, Dr. Gilligan says, are five possible signs of testicular cancer you might not know about:

5 Testicular Cancer Symptoms That Aren’t a Lump  – Know what to look for and catch it early

  1. A feeling of heaviness or pressure in your scrotum.
  2. Change in testicle size or firmness.Certain types of testicular tumors can reduce testosterone or increase estrogen in the body, which can result in a change in testicle size or firmness.
  3. Swollen legs.When a tumor spreads to the lymph node, it can constrict blood flow in the veins and result in a blood clot. The clots often occur in the legs, which causes them to swell. You might even experience blood clot symptoms such as pain and difficulty breathing.
  4. Lower back pain and shortness of breath.These are symptoms of advanced testicular cancer, meaning the cancer has spread to lymph nodes behind your stomach. Shortness of breath also may signal that the cancer has spread to your lungs, which may make it harder for air to move in and out.
  5. Breast growth or tenderness.In rare cases, hormone changes also can cause breast tenderness or growth of breast tissue. Some tumors can secrete high levels of a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), which stimulates breast development.

If you experience any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor right away, Dr. Gilligan says. If your physician diagnoses you with epididymitis or orchitis and the symptoms do not resolve quickly with antibiotics, request an ultrasound to evaluate for a testicular tumor.

“While up to 95 percent of men with testicular cancer are cured, it’s important to get care quickly if you’re experiencing symptoms because testicular cancers usually grow fast,” Dr. Gilligan says. “If there is disease, the earlier it is treated, the greater than chance for success.”

 

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Signs of Recovery in East Grand Bahama Habitats Scarred by Hurricane Dorian

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#TheBahamas, November 30, 2021 – In the pinelands and mangroves that make East Grand Bahama so distinctly unique, nature is replenishing itself from the massive destruction of Hurricane Dorian. The restoration slowly taking shape is evidence that the death and devastation that the massive storm left behind is giving way to new life, according to biodiversity experts and scientists who recently conducted field assessments.

The biodiversity consultants with the Implementing Land, Water and Ecosystems Management (IWEco) in The Bahamas project have concluded a new phase of field surveys in East Grand Bahama. The team assessed pinelands and wetlands, collecting detailed information on the habitats and the life forms they support for a biodiversity inventory that will be published as part of the project.

“We have yet to see a standing pine tree that remains alive. In different types of pine habitats, however, you’re seeing different rates of recovery, with seedlings beginning to be established and these seedlings are typically anywhere from eight to 12 inches tall, and some we’ve seen are two to three feet tall,” Mark Daniels, biodiversity consultant with BRON Ltd. said.

The biodiversity team spent more than a week conducting point counts, walking transects and vegetation plots to better understand the recovery process of pine and wetland areas in East Grand Bahama since Hurricane Dorian in 2019.

“The external fringes of those mangrove systems remain dead. However, in the more protected interior regions of these mangrove patches you are seeing mangroves returning and those creek systems where you have mangrove habitats that are inland and protected from the full force of the sea, are also recovering and looking very healthy,” Daniels said.

The biodiversity team also saw several species of wetland and forest birds as well as endemics like the Bahama Yellowthroat and Bahama Woodstar as well as pine saplings that are growing in areas where the trees were dead. Information on the wildlife in East Grand Bahama will also be included in the biodiversity inventory that will be made public.

“We are seeing a lot more birds in the area but most of them are winter migrants from North America coming to The Bahamas and their presence increases our avian fauna by over 50 per cent,” said Scott Johnson, biodiversity consultant with BRON Ltd. “What’s also interesting is that some of the highest diversity of birds we are seeing is in patches of coppice areas in East Grand Bahama. These birds are occupying sites that have a variety of plant species that are producing flowers and some fruits so they have food resources.”

Although the Bahama Yellowthroat and Bahama Woodstar have been observed in the area, other pineland species of birds have not been seen since Hurricane Dorian in 2019, he added.

“I fear that they may have been extirpated from the East Grand Bahama area. Until that pineland ecosystem comes back which may allow for new immigration of birds in that area, chances are that we may not see Bahama Warblers, Olive-Capped Warblers, or Cuban Emeralds in that area for a while,” Johnson said.

The IWEco The Bahamas project is part of a larger, regional undertaking for the Caribbean funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and implemented by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). For The Bahamas, the Department of Environmental Planning and Protection (DEPP), the Forestry Unit, the Ministry of Public Works and Bonefish & Tarpon Trust are the leading partners.

The work that is being done towards creating a biodiversity inventory is pivotal as it will not only benefit the natural environment but involve citizens more closely in sustaining it. East Grand Bahama has a diverse ecosystem in its plant and animal life as well as its habitats. Investigating and gathering a record of all these life forms is a key part of developing the systems and driving the adaptation to make the environment stronger.

“The Biodiversity Inventory conducted under the IWEco project and its respective findings show significant signs of ecosystem regeneration, and therefore signs of hope as it relates to Hurricane Dorian recovery,” said IWEco The Bahamas National Project Coordinator Melissa Ingraham. “The inventory, amongst other project aspects, such as the development of an ecotourism sector and capacity building opportunities will be incorporated into a watershed management plan to sustainably guide resource use and management at a community based level.”

The project aims to develop and implement of integrated systems that support ecosystem health and strengthen national monitoring and evaluation systems. Other goals include policy, legislative and institutional reforms to increase capacity for sustainable natural resource management and deepening the knowledge that is key for effective stakeholder involvement.

 

Header: Gathering information for the biodiversity inventory from the pineland forest near West Gap Creek.

1st Insert: These dead mangroves at Ridge Creek are among the lingering signs of Hurricane Dorian’s trek across East Grand Bahama.

2nd insert: Members of the IWEco The Bahamas biodiversity team visit the mangroves at Ridge Creek where there are signs of recovery.

 

Press Release: IWECO

 

 

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