CHRONIC DISEASES, NOT HIV/AIDS, FOCUS OF NEW HEALTH UNIT

HIV AIDS is still a major health concern in Anguilla as well as in the rest of the region and the world in general. But now, here on the island, and elsewhere, there is an almost frenzied focus on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). Accordingly, the Ministry and the Health Authority of Anguilla have combined their efforts to establish a special unit to oversee the control of the above group of diseases accounting for the majority of illnesses and deaths on the island.

The Chronic Disease Unit was launched in Anguilla at a ceremony at the Anguilla Community College on Monday this week, November 30. Dr. Bonnie Richardson-Lake, Permanent Secretary, Health and Social Development, speaking at the event, said in part:“Non-Communicable Diseases or NCDs continue to plaque Anguilla and nations around the world causing great economic burden. NCDs are the most common causes of morbidity and mortality in Anguilla. Health data from the Health Authority of Anguilla have revealed that over 1,075 patients are receiving treatment for diabetes and hypertension in the public health centres. NCDs, as a group, account for the greatest number of hospital admissions. These numbers do not capture the many patients who seek treatment in the private sector. Presently, there are 18 patients receiving treatment at the Princess Alexandra Hospital Dialysis Unit – all of whom are hypertensive, diabetic or both.”
The four main types of NCDs are cardiovascular diseases (like heart attacks and strokes), cancer, chronic respiratory diseases (such as obstructed pulmonary diseases and asthma) and diabetes. The Permanent Secretary explained that the Chronic Disease Unit in Anguilla is being assisted by a commission approved by the Executive Council. The commission “serves to broker effective involvement of all relevant organisations and to assist in the mobilisation of resources to facilitate the implementation of prevention and control programmes,” she stated.

“To further strengthen our response to NCDs, and to create better efficiencies, the Ministry of Health merged the responsibility for the NCDs response together with the National AIDS Programme to create a unit whose mandate is to lead the national response to chronic diseases,” she explained. “Merging these two services has the additional benefits of reducing the number of vertical health programmes and pooling limited resources.”
She went on: “The fact that NCDs, as opposed to HIV, a re the leading cause of mortality and morbidity, and represent our largest disease burden, requires a shift in focus and in our resource allocation. We have by no means, however, forgotten about HIV and AIDS…Our best defence against NCDs is prevention including education and the promotion of healthy lifestyles…” According to her, “the newly-formed Chr onic Disease Unit will focus on lifestyle changes. It will work closely with the Health Authority of Anguilla in the management and treatment of NCDs and HIV.”
The Permanent Secretary added: “I am delighted that we are now able to officially launch the Chronic Disease Unit. What this means is that we are now have a comprehensive, multi-sectorial strategy for addressing the chronic diseases that are causing severe health, social and economic burdens in Anguilla.”

The Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Aisha Andrewin, noted that whereas AIDS has killed 39 million [throughout the world] over the course of 30 plus years, NCDs kill 38 million people each year, according to the World Health Organisation. Moreover, 16 million of these deaths are considered to be premature in that they occur before the age of 70.
She stressed that the NCDs were completely avoidable or modifiable, pointing to unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, tobacco and alcohol use as the main risk factors causing these diseases. “There is no question that the Government of Anguilla recognises NCDs as a serious and palpable threat to Anguilla’s development through lost productivity and spiralling healthcare costs,” the Chief Medical Officer observed.

Other persons who participated in the launch of the Chronic Disease Unit included the Director, Mrs Twyla Bradshaw-Richardson, who spoke about its importance, functioning and vision; and Mrs Gillian Artsen of the HIV AIDS Programme and Ms Fedalia Richardson, Non-Communicable Diseases Programme Officer. Both of them unveiled the trademarks and logo of the unit, showcasing the artistic work done by Mr. Rudy Webster of the Government’s IT Unit and Mr. Ishmael Carty, an inmate of Her Majesty’s Prison.

The stated mission of the National Chronic Diseases Unit is as follows:
“To reduce the burden of Chronic Diseases through the creation of a comprehensive integrated chronic disease strategy that encompasses education, programme development, policy formulation, behavioural modification, advocacy and disease prevention.” (The Anguillan)

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