THE country office of the Pan American Health Organisation and World Health Organisation (PAHO/WHO) for The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos along with the Ministry of Health co-hosted a briefing meeting for newly elected government ministers on the impact of public policies on population health.
In attendance were Attorney General Carl Bethel; Minister of Education Jeffrey Lloyd; Minister of Health Dr Duane Sands; Environment Minister Romauld Ferreira, Minister of Social Services Lanisha Rolle and Minister of State for Legal Affairs Elsworth Johnson and other senior governmental officials.
In her address, Dr Esther de Gourville (PAHO/WHO country representative) stated that PAHO/WHO began its collaboration with The Bahamas on health development in 1974.
The Bahamas has achieved impressive gains in population life expectancy and reduced the mortality rate, decreased the incidence and prevalence of communicable disease, including many vaccine preventable diseases and HIV/AIDS.
In recent years, however, there has been an alarming increase in the number of Bahamians succumbing to disease, disability or death from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, certain cancers, lung disease and kidney failure.
Dr de Gourville used the example of trends in NCDs to advocate for a "Health in all Policies" or "whole of government approach" to policy development and implementation. NCDs now account for more than seven out of every ten deaths and are the major drivers of escalating health care costs in The Bahamas.
A survey conducted in The Bahamas in 2012 showed that over 95 per cent of young adults between the ages of 25 and 45 had one or more of the risk factors for NCDs, PAHO noted in a press release. The prevalence of childhood obesity, a major risk factor for the development of NCDs is also a serious concern. Unless these trends are reversed, there will be a dramatic negative impact on productivity due to disease and disability, unaffordable increases in health care costs, and significant increases in the number of avoidable deaths. The risk of acquiring NCDs can be considerably reduced through individual lifestyle choices.
NCDs risk can be reduced through increasing physical activity, reducing alcohol and tobacco use and increasing consumption of nutritious foods that are low in sugar, fats and salt.
Through effective multisectoral and inter-ministerial action the government can seek to adopt a coherent public policy agenda to decrease the incidence of NCDs.
Fiscal, legislative, nutritional and development policies can have a significant impact on the choices people make in their personal lives. Effective public polices can help Bahamians to make the healthy choice the easier choice, PAHO noted.
Dr Sands mentioned the significant challenges in planning for health services in The Bahamas that includes population growth, aging population, population distributed over several islands, unequal wealth distribution, service delivery model, emerging disease threats, technological advancements, the expectations of patients and expectations of service providers.
He referenced measures taken by the Ministry of Health over the past two to three years which led to the development of a strategic plan entitled "Wellness in the Nation" and the establishment of The Healthy Bahamas Coalition which convenes multi-stakeholder consultations and actions to improve the health of Bahamians.
Meeting participants endorsed the benefits of the "Health in All Policies" approach that is advocated by PAHO/WHO and will seek to ensure that public policies have a better impact on the health of Bahamians.