NCDs are killing the Caribbean

Strive: Toward a more just, sustainable future

27-11-2023 • 36 min

If I asked you to name the world’s most deadly diseases I’m guessing that you might say HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, cholera, maybe even COVID-19. In fact, those have all been major killers throughout human history – and some like TB continue to be so, especially in low-income countries.

But there is one group of diseases that is responsible for the deaths of more than two-thirds of people on earth. Let that sink in for moment. For every three people who die, two are killed by these illnesses, which are known as non-communicable diseases, or NCDs.

You probably know about many of them. NCDs include cancers, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and strokes, lung diseases and mental and neurological illnesses. As the name implies, what sets NCDs apart is that they cannot be passed from one person to another.

Today we’re speaking with Maisha Hutton, executive director of the Healthy Caribbean Coalition, about the growing impact of NCDs on that region. For example, they are responsible for 80% of deaths in the Caribbean, and 40% of all premature deaths. Before COVID-19, one in three children in the region was overweight or obese – a major contributor to developing NCDs — which is one of the highest rates in the world; it might be even higher now, says Maisha.

Besides describing what NCDs look like in the Caribbean and what societies there are doing to tackle the epidemic, Maisha explains why it’s not fair, or correct, to label NCDs as ‘lifestyle diseases’. That’s because the environments where people live have been carefully designed to promote NCD risk factors including alcohol and tobacco use, physical inactivity and unhealthy diets.

A quick note about some terms that Maisha mentions: PAHO is the Pan American Health Organization. GDA, traffic light, and octagonal — or stop sign — are different types of warning labels for food packages. GDA stands for guideline daily amount (or guideline daily allowance).

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