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Small Islands More at Risk from Deadly Diseases Say Experts.

Photo credit: PAHO. Small island developing states residents may be more vulnerable to non communicable diseases like obesity. cancer, diabetes, and mental health issues, say experts.

By Editor-June 19th, 2023.

Last week the 2023 Bridgetown Declaration on Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs) and Mental Health was launched, to address some of the world’s deadliest diseases in Small Island Developing States, which are especially at risk.

The Declaration is a key outcome of the SIDS Ministerial Conference on Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs) and Mental Health, running from 14 to 16 June, co-hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Government of Barbados.

SIDS are disproportionately affected by non communicable diseases – which cause 74% of all deaths globally – due to their reliance on imported food, commercial influences and the climate crisis.

A new World Health Organization shows that 8 of the 15 countries with more than a 30% risk of premature death from cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, or chronic respiratory disease are Small Island Developing States (SIDS) .

The 10 countries with the highest obesity rates globally are all SIDS in the Pacific, where over 45% of adults are condidered medically overweight or obese.

Mental health conditions are common in SIDS countries, affecting an estimated 15.2% of the population in the Caribbean and 11.2% of the population in the Pacific.

People with mental health conditions face a higher risk of premature mortality, including from unaddressed physical health conditions and from suicide. Stigma, specialized staff shortages and the impact of climate change contribute to a challenging situation in SIDS that requires immediate attention.

The 2023 Bridgetown Declaration outlines bold steps to address the range of social, environmental, economic and commercial issues that lead to NCDs and mental health conditions.

Developed through an inclusive process led ‘for’ and ‘by’ SIDS, the declaration highlights that NCDs and mental health conditions cannot be properly addressed without responding to the climate crisis.

“Bold action for our climate, good health, and wellbeing relies on redressing and reorganizing global financing to unlock billions in investment, while making it less punishing for developing countries to pay their debts,” said Her Excellency Mia Amor Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados. “Funding for climate change adaptation and mitigation in the most vulnerable countries is also key, with noncommunicable diseases and mental health accounted for.”

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General also pledged that WHO would work to mobilize financial resources to develop climate resilient, environmentally sustainable health care facilities in the SIDS.

These commitments align with WHO’s ‘best buys’ – a set of cost-effective, evidence-based interventions to tackle NCDs.

The list of best buys was recently updated at the World Health Assembly in May to include secondary prevention for rheumatic fever, acute and long-term management of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease as well as several interventions for cervical, breast, colorectal, liver and childhood cancer, and the comprehensive treatment of cancer for those living with HIV.