Health is a global development issue that affects everyone and nothing has quite made this more evident than COVID-19. The pandemic has put health issues at the forefront of global matters and has emphasized the importance of maintaining and following health protocols around the world. The disease affects everyone and particularly those with pre-conditions, including noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). While COVID-19 is highly communicable, NCDs cannot be spread from one person to the next. However, the viral pandemic has highlighted the need for effective plans and programmes to reduce preventable health issues like NCDs in populations around the world.
Now more than ever it is important that countries take collective responsibility to implement the international protocols to control infectious diseases as well as to accelerate programs to prevent and control NCDs. In this regard, decisions taken at inter-governmental levels are important to what happens in our country.
The governing bodies and meetings to note:
● World Health Organization (WHO): The World Health Organization is the specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for international public health. It directs and coordinates international health within the United Nations system, which includes the 194 members of the UN. The Ministers of Health of these countries meet annually, in Geneva, in May, at the World Health Assembly.
● Pan American Health Organization (PAHO):The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is the specialized international health agency for the Americas. It works with countries throughout the region to improve and protect people's health.
● The CARICOM Ministers of Health meet in the Council of Human and Social Development (COHSOD): In this annual meeting, the Ministers agree on regional policies to address common Caribbean health issues and strategize how to prevent and control them.
What are the governing bodies doing to help NCDs and COVID-19?
The 58th Directing Council of PAHO was held virtually on the 28th-29th September 2020. The meeting focused on COVID-19 and took note of reports on several different health conditions and COVID-19. Some highlights that pertain to NCDs include:
● The Plan of Action for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable diseases: Final Report
The Plan of Action to combat the high mortality rate in the Americans related to noncommunicable diseases covered the period 2013-2020. This report evaluated whether the objectives and targets set had been met, identified lessons learned and recommended how countries should best move forward. The report revealed a mixed picture of success and recommended,
“an intensive scaling up of the WHO “best buy” interventions, integration of NCDs into health system reforms, and adequate and sustained national financing for NCDs, commensurate with the health and socioeconomic burden they represent.”
● Resolution: COVID-19 Pandemic in the region of the Americas.
This document details the recent plans and solutions recommended to governing bodies in the Americas to best handle the pandemic. In acknowledging the challenges that come with the virus it encourages members and the heads of health to maintain certain protocols while also encouraging research and innovative responses to the virus.
One area the resolution did not cover, however, is noncommunicable diseases. The document focuses mainly on the administrative factors involved with the disease and on respiratory viruses.
Non-Communicable diseases leave people extremely vulnerable to the severe form of COVID-19. The TTNCDA would have like see a stronger reference to NCDs within the document.
What is being done in Trinidad and Tobago?
The Ministry of Health has highlighted NCDs as important underlying conditions in many of their weekly press conferences. Health officials have reported that many of the persons who have been hospitalized and have died from with COVID-19 have had noncommunicable diseases.
In line with the PAHO’s, “Plan of Action for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases”, Trinidad and Tobago has a strategic plan to prevent NCDs in the country between 2017-2021. Many of the “key planned actions” are in line with PAHO’s guidelines and action plans, however, there is not much data on the impact these plans have or are having at this current moment.
As PAHO reported earlier this year, it is imperative now, more than ever, that governments increase the attention required for the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.The disease knows no boundaries and leaves those with NCDs at a particular disadvantage.Thus, the plans and protocols designated by the governing bodies in health must be maintained and followed to ensure the safety of all including the more vulnerable among us.