Editorial | Wellness and society
The link between a country's health and its prosperity has long been recognised. Indeed, we have heard it often enough: a healthy nation is a wealthy nation.
This health-wealth equation affects every citizen of Jamaica, because development is so intimately bound with health. In the final analysis, the quality of the healthcare sector is what determines the quality of life for the population.
It is for the above reasons that this newspaper pays keen attention to the indicators related to health, which we acknowledge as powerful measures of our progress.
Recently released data from the third Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey shed new light on the nation's health and, importantly, the attitude of Jamaicans towards screening for breast, cervical and prostate cancers.
The survey used a range of yardsticks such as blood and urine samples to unearth some negative trends that tell a grim story about the nation's health. The statistics speak loudly. For example, one in three Jamaicans is affected by hypertension. One in two Jamaicans is obese or overweight, and one in eight Jamaicans has diabetes. The data also showed that obesity levels in schools have doubled over a seven-year period.
Initiatives to promote good health are expected to come from the Ministry of Health and its agencies, so the data collected from this islandwide survey will be used to assess health, quality-of-life indices, and economic expenditure in the various healthcare facilities.
The Ministry of Health's Jamaica Moves initiative has been designed to address the obesity problem among the population.
The whole point of screening is to guide prevention efforts. Many diseases have no symptoms. If well managed from an early stage, chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol are less likely to lead to complications. Many cancers need not be fatal if patients are treated in a timely and effective manner. It is, therefore, something of a puzzle that more people are not making use of screening facilities. Cost is likely to be an inhibiting factor, but there are non-profits and foundations that offer reduced rates for screening. Irrespective of the reasons for shying away from screening tests, it is unacceptable, and addressing it has to be a government priority.
Today's nutrition will definitely affect tomorrow's adult, so the Government's plan to implement nutrition strategies in schools to deal with obesity and other diet-related ailments, such as cardiovascular disease, is a worthwhile investment in our future wealth. The effort is to purposefully address and make significant improvement to child health by putting nutrition at the heart of the strategy. We applaud those efforts.
At the core of the health system are healthcare workers, who, despite being undercompensated and overworked, continue to diligently care for the sick. But individuals have to take charge of their health. These damning statistics should serve as a call to action for all Jamaicans.
Heredity and the environment will impact our best efforts to achieve optimum health, but each individual is responsible for making healthy choices and practising healthy behaviours.
The results of this study suggest that the Ministry of Health needs urgently to address any misconceptions people may have about screening and redouble its efforts to promote early screening as a life-saving method. We feel that addressing the barriers against cancer screening should be seen as a public-health imperative.