Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Jamaica's big, fat problem

Published:Wednesday | August 13, 2014 | 8:00 AM

By Daraine Luton

THERE ARE some critically important private members' motions on the Order Paper of the House of Representatives to which we hope members of parliament will find it necessary to devote significant attention when they return from their summer break.

One of those motions - brought by East Portland MP Dr Lynvale Bloomfield - has to do with the fight against non-communicable and lifestyle diseases, which represent the leading causes of major disease and death worldwide.

Bloomfield, a government backbencher, wants the Human Resource and Social Development Committee to consider the fact that obesity constitutes an ever-alarming and increasing epidemic worldwide, and specifically in Jamaica, where it engenders an unbearable economic burden and social challenge. He wants the House of Representatives to debate the concept of obesity and its growing importance as a public-health concern and its great social and economic implications.

He has suggested that the committee consider, among other things, the usefulness of creating a national public awareness campaign framework, the inclusion of obesity as a nosological subject within the national health service management structure and subject to the National Health Fund and the Jamaica Drugs for the Elderly Programme, and other programmes; and the institution of regulations by the respective government ministries and agencies as they relate to diet and exercise requirements in government facilities such as in health and education.

Bloomfield also wants the establishment of guidelines for the publication of the nutritional value of food offered for public consumption; the creation of guidelines for the publication of caloric value content for food offered to the public by food outlets; and general therapeutic strategies and related matters to address the problem of obesity.

The motion, as far as The Gavel is concerned, is impatient of debate. The fact that it was made to sit on the back burner as the House painfully and laboriously engaged in the grand charade called the Sectoral Debate is a poor commentary on how Parliament engages critical matters.

State's mandate

The fight against non-communicable and lifestyle diseases has to be a targeted operation by the State. True, Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson, while making his contribution to the Sectoral Debate, tabled a national strategic action plan for the prevention and control of non-communicable disease in Jamaica. The goal of the action plan is to reduce the burden of preventable morbidity and disability and premature mortality caused by non-communicable disease by 25 per cent by 2025.

It is such a pity that this national strategic plan has come before the Human Resource and Social Development Committee was able to do its work on the same subject. One hopes that its tabling in the Parliament will not prevent a thorough examination of the issues placed on the table by Bloomfield's motion. In fact, the committee should use the action plan to guide its deliberations. In the event that there is a need to make amendments to the action plan, the Cabinet should, with IMF speed, seek to incorporate the recommendations of Parliament in the policy.

The Bloomfield motion is not the only one on which we want to see real action. One year ago, the Human Resource and Social Development Committee was mandated to "urgently examine the adequacy and affordability of funding tertiary education in Jamaica", a motion brought by the MP for North West St Ann, Dr Dayton Campbell. The committee has met to discuss the matter, but we are yet to see actions being manifested in policies.

Perhaps when members return from the summer break in September, House Speaker Michael Peart may find it useful to insist that House Leader Phillip Paulwell provide a comprehensive report on all motions sent to the Cabinet during the life of this Parliament.

Under the Standing Orders, the Cabinet is required to send a report to the House within 14 days, and not more than 21 days if leave of Parliament is sought and obtained, on all motions of critical importance to either constituencies or the country that have been submitted. That could be the catalyst for the Parliament to increase the pace at which it considers and disposes of private members' motions.

Daraine Luton is a senior parliamentary reporter. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and thegavel@gleanerjm.com.