Christopher Tufton, minister of health and wellness says that this year, the ministry will focus on the ‘Know Your Numbers’ healthy lifestyle initiative in a push to positively influence healthy lifestyles and preventing ill-health among Jamaicans.
“This is a practical healthy response to the biggest health crisis we face today, lifestyle diseases and premature mortality,” he said, noting that the focus is a critical component in the ministry’s efforts.
Tufton was delivering his contribution to the 2023/24 Sectoral Debate today (May 3).
The minister spoke about Jamaicans dying before the average life expectancy of countrymen and women where lifestyle diseases play a critical role.
Life Years Lost
“When we analyse the deaths of persons occurring before their 75th birthday, which is considered the sort of average life expectancy in Jamaica today, women being three or four more years than men, we found that some 12,747 or 59 per cent of persons who died in 2020 died before the age of 75. But more concerning, this represents when you calculate the life years lost. So let’s assume that 75 is the average, if someone lives to 70, we calculate five years lost and we do that for all who died before 75 because it is the life expectancy. When we calculated the life years lost in 2020, we found that we had 296,000 life years lost because of what I classify as premature mortality. But worse, it represents at 19 per cent increase in the potential years of life lost a decade ago (2011). In other words, Jamaicans are dying younger,” he expalines
“In 2020, lifestyle diseases were the cause of approximately 144,000 life years lost representing a 30 per cent increase in potential years of life lost when compared again to a decade before,” he added.
“Madam Speaker, too many Jamaicans are walking sick people because they do not know their health status,” said Tufton.
Know Your Numbers
The ‘Know Your Numbers’ initiative focuses on getting Jamaicans to screen at least once each year to know their health status and what they need to do to modify their behaviour to reduce illness and premature mortality.
“Our target is to get 500,000 screening tests done this year, 2023/24. This is to provide Jamaicans with the opportunity to know what they are vulnerable to and what they need to do to correct this through lifestyle changes,” said the minister.
He said that in order to achieve this, “we intend to bolster offerings of health checks and promote health screening in our hospitals and clinics across the country. Screening will become routine operating procedure through our primary reform programme, in particular our Life-Stage approach,” he said explaining that once someone enters a health facility for any concern or examination, they will be provided with a health screening.
The minister pointed out that an estimated 236,000 or 9 per cent of people in the country’s population live with diabetes and only 106,000 of these or 45 per cent are aware of their status. He also added that 95,030 of the estimated amount has one or more complications related to diabetes, highlighting that “these complications include amputation, chronic kidney disease, and heart attack”.
As far as hypertension is concerned, Tufton said that approximately 679,000 or a quarter of all Jamaicans have hypertension with only 377,000 or 54 per cent knowing their status while over 300,000 of people do not know their status.
“These statistics are alarming as knowing your basic health information is a critical first step in taking personal responsibility for health. What are your blood pressure numbers? what are your blood sugar numbers? what is your body mass index (BMI), or what is your HIV status? These are questions to which every Jamaican must have an answer,” he said.
He noted, that interestingly, an estimated 75 per cent of Jamaicans could avoid a stroke if they were aware of the warning signs through screening and apply corrective action. This is called modifiable risk factors.
“In 2020, 7,400 plus, almost 7,500 Jamaicans had a stroke and 2,400 died. The rest, for the most part, had a disability. They needed therapy. They had to stop from work and they had to have somebody taking care of them. I hope it makes the point why we need to know that our blood pressure is high and why we need to take action early,” he said,
The MOHW, through its regional health authorities, plan to repurpose mobile units that were used in COVID-19 service delivery to offer mobile screening services to the community, places of work, and play. They plan to partner with community leaders and civic groups, where they intend to plan and execute community outreach to support screening, targeting the most vulnerable populations in Jamaica.
“These include people living in remote, difficult, underserved and unreached areas, to assess and provide management for illness,” Tufton said, who then shared that services to be offered include BMI screenings, hypertension, diabetes, vision, cholesterol, and HIV/syphilis.
He also shared that there will be expanded services that will include ECG, some cancers (prostate, breast, cervical, and colorectal), dementia and frailty, as well as immunization.
The programme will also feature a pathway to care that ensures that once diagnosed with any chronic illness, persons can immediately be referred into treatment to manage the condition. A detailed “Referral Pathways for Core Screening Services” has been developed by the team in the Ministry and has been circulated to all Regional Health Authorities (RHAs) and Parish Health Departments to ensure that the ethical risks associated with this campaign are sufficiently managed.
Aligned with the Heart Foundation of Jamaica’s mandate
The Heart Foundation of Jamaica (HFJ) has consistently been urging Jamaicans to know their numbers. In February, the organisation’s theme for Heart Month was ‘Do you part, Check your heart’ where their continued encouragement to ‘know your numbers’ was stressed.
Generally, for the HFJ, knowing your numbers include getting one’s cholesterol, blood pressure, and sugar levels checked. Additionally, they encourage people to engage in exercise and adjust diets appropriately.
Learn more about NCDs and how to manage them at the Ministry’s NCD website: Non-communicable disease and injury control
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