Written by: Steve Ouditt Updated: Jan, 2020 3 min read
In July 2017 our team at Vessel downloaded and read the ‘National Strategic Plan for the prevention and Control of Non Communicable Diseases: Trinidad and Tobago 2017 – 2021’, from the Ministry of Health’s website. We studied this plan from cover to cover, to understand how people are coping with NCDs [non communicable diseases] and to see what’s in store for us. We were alarmed at the danger we’re in.
NCDs are killing us and soaking up billions of dollars every year. Take a look at these stats published in the Strategic Plan. For 2015 – 62% of deaths annually were from NCDs; 25% died from heart disease; 14% died from diabetes; 13% died from cancer and 10% died from cerebrovascular disease. There are approximately 39,400 undiagnosed cases of diabetes. 50% of diabetes deaths occur before the age of 65. There are over 500 amputations a year. On page 5 of the report it tells us that there is an increase in NCD onset in people under 45 years of age. Also, compared to other Caribbean countries, our life expectancy in Trinidad and Tobago is way down the list at number 19 out of 21. We’re just above Guyana, with Haiti last.
These stats on paper are terrible as is, but in the lives of real humans living with NCDs, the situation is unbearable. Even if you’re rich and powerful in Trinidad and Tobago, but have a history of making bad health choices, your money and power won’t save you. It might buy you a little more time, but that’s all.
For many years in rich Trinidad and Tobago, lavish living set the scene that made it easy for people to be extravagant and careless about health choices. There were plenty easy opportunities for rich and poor to become lazier; fatter; greedier; to party harder, and to drive big pick-ups and SUVs. It became easy too, to set such bad lifestyle examples for their children. Right now Caribbean Public Health Agency [CARPHA] has a document on its website on NCDs and childhood obesity, with the hopeful title, ‘Safeguarding our Future Development’. People need to read this.
Our National Strategic Plan for NCDs says that the economic burden on Trinidad and Tobago, from diabetes, cancer and hypertension is about TT$8.7 billion annually. That’s more than US$ one billion per year, and almost one billion Euro a year. To put things into perspective, compared to our annual NCD spend, the rapper Drake’s worth looks like real small money, at a paltry $US100 million. Any state of our size that spends TT$8.7 billion every year on NCDs must admit that it’s losing the battle.
Here is an excerpt from page 14 of the document “Investment in prevention interventions are urgently needed to decrease the incidence and reduce the substantial economic burden. Diabetes and hypertension are due to highly modifiable behavioural factors and prevention interventions can reap huge benefits”.
Another way to say this, and how Vessel interpreted it, is like this, “We urgently need interventions to prevent these NCDs and save billions of dollars. We believe if people change their behaviour and learn better health habits, this will go a long way in reducing diabetes and hypertension.”
It’s not rocket science to understand. To put it quite simply if the state and all health agencies created brilliant interventions to prevent people from smoking too much, from abusing alcohol, from eating unhealthily, from getting obese, from raising their cholesterol and blood sugar, they would save lives and money.
Right now we’re living in the era that scientists refer to as the Anthropocene. It’s the age of heavy human domination and impact on all our ecosystems. This human domination of everything has made it easy and convenient to make bad health choices in all aspects of our lives. We’re now facing the massive and dangerous backlash that we at Vessel have named the Encediscene [NCDscene]. We imagine we’re living in the era of the NCD. Just read the plan.
Vessel has designed a behaviour change interactive exhibition tentatively titled ‘The Encediscene: Health Choices in the Time of Your Life.’ In upcoming posts we’ll be put up some drawings of our idea. Look out for them.