Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves addresses the high-level meeting of the General Assembly on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases. (Photo: U.N.)

NEW YORK, USA – Health officials discussing Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) here were told that they must consider the factors that make imported junk food cheaper than nutritious, locally produced meals.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ (SVG) Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, in making that point, quoted Greek physician Hippocrates, who noted millennia ago, “A wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings.”

“If we can collectively protect and preserve this blessing, the benefits will go well beyond the longevity and productivity of individual citizens. It will have a knock-on effect on the economies, societies and developmental prospects of countries and regions,” Gonsalves told the U.N. High-Level Meeting on the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases this week.

Gonsalves thanked the nations that have helped St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the formulation and implementation of its own wellness revolution, in particular the European Union, Cuba, and Taiwan.

He, however, noted that it was not time “for congratulatory backslapping but … a time for the international community to roll up our collective sleeves to confront an epidemic that is correctable, reversible and treatable”.

“This High Level event is not the culmination of an effort, but merely the beginning of intense, focused and coordinated actions to address the health and developmental impacts of NCDs, particularly in poor and middle-income countries,” Gonsalves said at the meeting on the eve of the 66th session of the U.N. General Assembly underway here.

He noted that discussions about NCDs were taking place at the U.N. General Assembly and not at the World Health Organisation headquarters in Switzerland.

“That reason is the fact that the fallout of the NCD epidemic is much wider than the health sector or the health of those individuals tragically afflicted with non-communicable diseases,” Gonsalves said.

“The developmental aspects of this epidemic must be highlighted and addressed. In particular, we must confront the tremendous strain that NCD treatment places on the healthcare budgets of developing countries,” said Gonsalves, who is also the Minister of Finance in SVG.

Gonsalves further said that the meeting could not ignore “the disproportionate impact of this epidemic on poor people and developing states or its obvious negative impact on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals”.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are eight international development goals that all 193 U.N. member states and at least 23 international organisations have agreed to achieve by the year 2015. They include eradicating extreme poverty, reducing child mortality rates, fighting disease epidemics such as AIDS, and developing a global partnership for development.

“Our response to the NCD epidemic must therefore be multifaceted and coordinated,” Gonsalves reasoned, saying that the international consensus on Political Declaration emanating from the meeting was “not enough” although he was heartened by it.

He said that that political consensus must give impetus to a robust follow-up process and a detailed action plan that would provide assistance to local hospitals and primary care facilities.

The political consensus, Gonsalves further advanced, must also acknowledge that the flexibilities inherent in the World Trade Organisation’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement can and must be applied to the NCD epidemic.

He further argued that the consensus must dedicate Development Assistance to strengthening NCD prevention and treatment and collaborate on education and public awareness efforts in combating these diseases.

“We must also consider the role of the State and civil society in promoting healthy lifestyles and protecting local citizens from environmental harm and trade imbalances that make an imported hamburger, French fries and a carbonated beverage cheaper and more readily available than a nutritious, locally produced meal,” Gonsalves said.

Gonsalves reminded the gathering that four years ago, in his address to the General Debate of the 62nd Session of the UN General Assembly, he had said that the “costs associated with treating the chronic, non-communicable disease epidemic are staggering, and constitute a serious threat to our already-strained health care budgets”.

In that address, which Gonsalves also quoted in this week’s speech, the Prime Minister had said that SVG had “declared war on chronic, non-communicable diseases, and is in the embryonic stages of developing a comprehensive strategy to elaborate a wellness revolution among and by our citizens”.

The following is a U.N. Radio report on Gonsalves’ speech. 

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