By MORGAN ADDERLEY
Tribune Staff Reporter
GUN violence has been the number one cause of death of Bahamian men for the last few years, Health Minister Dr Duane Sands said yesterday, as he outlined the crippling effects obesity and non-communicable diseases have had on the healthcare system.
He added the probability of men dying from gun and stabbing-related injuries “far exceeds” their risk of dying from cancer or HIV/AIDs.
Speaking during his budget communication yesterday in the House of Assembly, Dr Sands also announced the ministry’s intention to launch a “war” with non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
Underscoring the “extremely high” rates of obesity in The Bahamas, Dr Sands added his ministry has been “considering the evidence supporting recommendations” for sin taxes on sugar, tobacco, alcohol, and “other vices”. He said while taxes may not curb consumption, they do generate revenue to “address the challenges of unhealthy consumption”.
This is important as Dr Sands noted the prevalence of NCDs in The Bahamas means the country’s healthcare demands “outstrip our financial capacity to pay”.
The health minister also said the country’s poor food choices are not only contributing to “slow dietary suicide” but also said it is “quite possible” that the malnutrition of Bahamians is “also contributing” to the high rate of homicide.
While delivering his remarks, Dr Sands said in 2018, the average life expectancy of a Bahamian at birth was 75.7 years — 72.6 for men and 78.6 for women.
Noting the country is “one of the leaders in penetrating trauma due to gunshots and stabbings”, Dr Sands continued: “The probability of males dying from these types of injuries far exceeds the risk of death from cancer or HIV/AIDS in The Bahamas.”
He added in 2012, The Bahamas had the 11th highest global homicide rate. While murders dropped to their “lowest rate” in nine years in 2018, he added they remain the “single greatest cause of loss of productive years of life lost” in men.
“For the last few years, the number one cause of death of a Bahamian male has been a bullet,” Dr Sands said.
He added that for the fiscal year 2019/2020, his ministry will be directing resources and confirming private-public collaborations to study the “impact of nutrition in our young men and women”.
“Specifically, we see how our food choices are contributing to slow dietary suicide…obesity, hypertension, diabetes and cancer,” Dr Sands said. “It is quite possible that the malnutrition of our people is also contributing to the high rate of homicide.
“So... as we commit institutionalised suicide by diet... those same foods may contribute to the increased propensity to violence and homicide.”
Dr Sands reported four out of five Bahamians are overweight and 49.2 percent are obese. He added studies have shown obese people are approximately 20 percent more likely to die from cardiovascular disease and have a higher chance of getting certain cancers, type 2 diabetes, renal failure and stroke.
“When we ask about the incidents of cancer in The Bahamas...our rates are already skewed simply because of our weight,” Dr Sands added.
Listing a series of troubling national statistics—including the fact that 132,741 Bahamians have an “abnormally high blood pressure” and there are over 600 persons on hemodialysis, at an annual cost of $25m— Dr Sands said due to these lifestyle-related issues, Bahamians are on average sicker than most and require more health services than most.
“Consequently, our healthcare needs outstrip our financial capacity to pay ...and the financing gap must come from somewhere.
“We are paying an incredible toll because of our lifestyle choices... and that toll is paid not just in health care costs... but in a mounting pile of sick and dying Bahamians. Let me declare today…we are going to war with NCDs.”
Acknowledging that the government has agreed not to introduce any new categories of taxes this fiscal year, Dr Sands said his ministry will still “thoroughly determine the potential impact of deliberate fiscal disincentives to unhealthy behaviours”.
“While 2019/2020 sugar taxes are not yet ready to be implemented...this ministry will aggressively study the world’s experience for an evidence-based recommendation.”
To fight the “NCD epidemic”, Dr Sands said $1.765m, an 18 percent increase in comparison to the previous fiscal year, has been allocated to complement targeted wellness initiatives.