(L/R) H.E. Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines and Dr. Alafia Samuels, Director of the Chronic Disease Research Centre (CDRC)
H.E. Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, was one of the original signatories of the Port of Spain Declaration on chronic non-communicable diseases and is attending the 38th CARICOM Heads of Government Conference which is marking the 10th Anniversary of the signing of this landmark declaration. Here are his thoughts on what has been achieved in the last 10 years.
“I think the first and most important issue has to do with enhanced sensitisation and building of community groups, certainly in St Vincent and the Grenadines, addressing issues of diabetes. I think that has happened throughout the Caribbean, though I can speak of St Vincent and the Grenadines. Concomitant with that is a whole set of exercise programmes which we have seen developing.
Thirdly, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education have worked very hard with the nutrition unit to streamline the school meals programme, to make the programme more nutritious…Actually we have done so much work on that that in our 61 primary schools over 80% of the kids go on the programme, including middle class [and] rich people because the food is good and very, very cheap.
At the level of the health services we have clinics and polyclinics which are within half an hour’s walk of where you live. And staff have been trained to be more sensitive to these questions of diabetes and hypertension. And at the level of public policy we have put on additional taxes on tobacco and alcoholic beverages. With sugar and salt…we have removed the exemption and put on the VAT and a number of things like that. Well, I still see a huge number of persons who have problems with diabetes but I think among the younger people we’re beginning to see a greater sensitivity.
The truth is this: we still have too many of these soft drinks around the schools. We still have too many of them and they’re too sweet. There are people…who say; “Oh, I have freedom of choice – you’re trying to be the nanny state telling me what I must drink, what I can smoke, what I can eat and so on…that appeals to some people who are really looking for something under which to hide or cover something which in fact you and I have to pay for.
In CARICOM, I want to enhance all of the things [I spoke about earlier] and we need to listen to the professionals, listen to the professionals!
More from the 38th Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) here.
Pictures from the meeting can be found here and below.