The CARICOM Heads of Government Summit on Chronic Diseases in September 2007 established Caribbean Wellness Day in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. Since the inaugural celebration the following year, Grenada has fulfilled its annual commitment, using the event “to provide an opportunity to increase the awareness of the non-communicable diseases (NCDs) burden in the Caribbean.” This also enables us “to mobilize and strengthen public, private, and civil society partnerships for NCDs; to promote multi-country, multi-sectoral activities in support of wellness; and showcase national and community level activities to promote healthy living and encourage residents to develop good health practices.” (CARPHA–2016).
Like our CARICOM counterparts, Caribbean Wellness Day observance has “become integrated into our national Non-Communicable Disease Programmes to ensure sustainability. The first 4 years, 2008–2011, focused on raising awareness of Caribbean Wellness Day at the national, regional and international levels. In 2012, a decision was taken to focus on preventing and controlling NCDs throughout the life course during 2012–2015. Our themes ranged from “Building the foundation for building healthy lifestyles” in 2012, “Safeguarding the health of our youth for a brighter future” in 2013, “Preserving the workforce for national and regional development” in 2013 and “Improving the quality of life of the Region’s ageing population” in 2015.
This year, the Government of Grenada through the Ministry of Health and our stakeholder, held a week of activities to commemorate Caribbean Wellness Week from 11 to 16 September under the theme “Healthy Children in Healthy Environments”. The emphasis on wellness in our youngest citizens cannot be overemphasized. We know that habits and behaviors learned and practiced from our youth are often carried through our adult life. Grenada faces an uphill battle against chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes that lead to heart attacks, strokes and premature death. This, like our high prevalence of and mortality from cancers are often attributable to lifestyles acquired from our youth. Obesity in our population often stems from our poor dietary practices and lack of exercise, often influenced by situations in the environment in which we live and work.
Many families confront daily challenges of inappropriate food choices, consuming large volumes of fatty and sugary food items, insufficient fruit and vegetable and little water. Whether this is due to a lack of access, knowledge or motivation, our ministry is concerned about the outcomes. Many of our children spend too little time in outdoor activity, often opting for the entertainment provided by hand-held electronic devices and television. Childhood obesity is now considered an epidemic.
We believe that in order to achieve positive outcomes and turn the tide on NCDs in our children and young adults alike, we must include parents and caregivers, elected officials from all levels of government, schools, health care professionals, faith-based and community-based organizations, and private sector companies. In like fashion, the Ministry of Health has adopted policies in collaboration with our stakeholder partners. The Nutrition policy prepared by the Grenada Food and Nutrition Council addresses the dietary and activity needs of all but especially our children, while the Ministry Youth and Sports have implemented an active school program. Zero Hunger Program addresses the importance of providing adequate, accessible and healthy food for our children. Our School Health Program provides early screening opportunities and facilitates interventions to mitigate the onset of chronic diseases in our school aged children.
We must consider the importance of complete health, recognizing that the physical, mental social and spiritual well-being of our citizens can only be achieved in environments that are free of pollution, where sexual and physical abuse and child neglect become issues of our distant past. The absence of adequate housing, access to medical and mental health care, education, economic stability, political and religious freedoms, employment, social services and security must not be factors dominating our environment, challenging sustainable development and mitigating healthy outcomes or hope for achievement for our children. Our commitment to address climate change through multi-sectoral collaboration, provision of adequate human and financial capital and adaptive policies, will ensure the containment of re/emerging diseases as Dengue, Yellow Fever, Chikungunya and Zika, preservation of safe water and adequate food sources strengthen our capacity to reduce sickness and death from potential threat.
While we are far from our target, our chronic disease management program is embarking on health education and promotion. This will empower parents, teachers, caregivers and the wider community in their efforts to ensure a healthy start for our children and sustained practice of healthy lifestyles, thus resulting in the elimination of preventable disease and long happy lives for our young people, and Grenadians in general. We urge everyone to get up, get active and stay healthy.