Putting Child/Teen NCDs on the Post 2015 Agenda

 By Valdeen Shears 

The recently concluded two-day global conference on Non Communicable Diseases at the Hyatt Regency, Trinidad saw stakeholders, both medical and otherwise, speaking out for children and adolescents to be placed on the Global Non-Communicable Diseases Agenda.

The event was hosted by the NCD Child, a global coalition championing the rights and needs of children adolescents and youths who are living with or are at risk of developing NCDs. Trinidad and Tobago and its line Minister of Health, Dr Fuad Khan graciously acted as host country for this year’s conference. Many intellects, though from different backgrounds, offered their take on the cause and expert recommendations in the fight against NCDs. In his brief address, Khan called for a “serious conversation on the topic of obesity”.

We need a serious conversation on obesity

“We are not only hurting ourselves by consuming too many fatty foods and leading sedentary lifestyles, we are hurting our children as well. Our example informs their habits. As adults we have a responsibility to nurture and protect our younger ones, not lead them on a path to illness and a poor quality of life,” he noted.

Khan added that adults are failing in their responsibilities to the children, particularly following the results of a Gliblal Health School (2011) survey in the country, which showed that 30 percent of teenagers between ages 13 and 15 are overweight. “In total 17 percent of schoolchildren in this country are overweight, 15 percent are obese and more than 40 percent have at least one risk factor to developing diabetes,” stated the Health Minister.

Khan concluded by pledging the Ministry’s support to the main purpose of the conference, to promote and foster a life-course approach to the decrease and prevention of “lifestyle” diseases.  President Anthony Carmona and First Lady Reema were also in attendance at the conference. Dubbed the patron of the NCD coalition, Sir George Alleyne, focused his address on
the question “Quo Vadis?” which from the scripture means “Where are you going?” Alleyne in his impassioned address questioned what has to be done to take the fight against NCDs to the next level.

“It is with this historical theme in mind that I wish to explore where NCD Child and its partners are going, the often uncomfortable truths it will put forward and how this will enhance the life  of the organization such that it fulfills the conference’s theme “doing what needs to be done,” he stated in his usual outspoken nature.

Address at the highest political levels

He advised however, that in examining what needs to be done, how and by who would also factor in the scenario.  Alleyne reasoned that the most important task ahead would be to continue to elevate concerns for NCDs in the youth to the highest political levels. Focus, he added, must be placed on the application of the technical tools to give concrete expression to the political statements.

“There must be concerted efforts to ensure that the political and the technical are underpinned by an adequate social enterprise,” he noted. Alleyne, who has pledged his support to the NCD Child organisation, urged them to continue to facilitate the youth voices being heard and to act as mouthpieces for them.

He also touched on The Life Course Approach being promoted by NCD Child and the Healthy Caribbean Coalition–an NCD Caribbean Alliance, spearheaded by President, Prof Sir Trevor Hassell. The Approach focuses on the implementation of the Life-course in the Post 2015 Development Agenda. Alleyne called for continued advocacy to be a collective effort.

He quoted segments from the Convention of the Rights of the Child, which stated that “preventing NCDs should start early in life through the promotion and support of healthy non-violent lifestyles or pregnant women, their spouses/partners and young
children”, Alleyne said that in this regard, while he was in full support, not enough importance was being placed on advocacy as it relates to the social and human aspects of NCDs in children.

“The consequences of diabetes on schooling, the social isolation and discrimination against the obese child and the ineffable tragedy of childhood cancer–a tragedy made starker by the inequities in terms of access to adequate treatment and palliative care when it is needed,” stated Alleyne. The reality of these inequalities became reality, when Dr Kate Armstrong, founder of NCD Child, showed a video slide of two children, same age living with a non-communicable disease, but within different income brackets. The differences in even the child’s demeanour were tell-tale, with one child appearing to be the typical happy go-lucky pre-teenager and the other clearly ill and impoverished. Professor Robert Blum, representative for the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health, visited several impoverished communities to look at the aspect of NCDs being bred in slums based on findings from a Wave Study– Wellbeing of Adolescents in Vulnerable Environments (WAVE).

NCDs are dubbed “lifestyle” diseases and it was in this regard that Blum touched on the topic of poverty and how it factors in the fostering of NCDs. Blum informed the audience of the findings after his visit to five cities of over 2,300 teenagers between the ages 15-19.  He noted too that issues such as persistent fear and vulnerability, interpersonal violence, unsanitary living conditions and lack of social supports, characterized many of the daily experiences of those involved in the study and this was found to have led
to high rates of tobacco, alcohol and other substance abuse, physical and psychological trauma and unprotected sex and its risks, he added.

Creative methodology

Blum’s second presentation focused on establishing a creative methodology capturing and showcasing the voices of youths, using photo-voice analysis. He touched too on the implications and applications for youths with chronic and disabling conditions.

Prof Sir Trevor Hassell, President of the HCC, in his address noted that his organisation, along with the NCD Alliance and Medtronic Philanthropy would make available the NCD Status Report he document he added, would be for the privy of policy-makers, civil society and the private sector.

“The report aims to provide a detailed assessment of progress made in tackling NCDs in the Caribbean as viewed by civil society and includes a call to action in those areas in which gaps have been detected and about which the HCC will encourage and assist civil society organisations (CSO) led activity,” stated Hassell.  He also called for a multi-sector approach and response to NCDs.

“The challenge is to continue to recognise the need for such a response, assist all sectors of society in the appreciation of the role they  can play in the response, build capacity of sectors to respond, establish mechanisms to allow them to contribute to the response and whenever possible generate resources to facilitate such efforts,” he outlined.

The two-day conference left all in attendance with food for thought, having seen over 40 panel presentations and discussions.

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