Presidential Commission on the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases reconstituted

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Head of the Presidential Commission on the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases, Dr Leslie Ramsammy

The Presidential Commission on the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases has been reappointed by Cabinet. The reconstituted commission met for the first time in 2021 today, January 20. The newly-appointed commission is headed by Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, the former Minister of Health. The multi-sector commission includes members from various ministries, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, the University of Guyana, religious bodies.

At its first meeting today, the  Minister of Health, Dr. Frank Anthony was its special guest. The Minister urged the commission to be proactive and told the members he is looking forward to work with the commission so that the Ministry of Health and the Commission can jointly implement an aggressive fight against the risk factors that contribute towards a heavy disease burden from the NCDs. In particular, Minister Anthony highlighted the risk factors, such as alcohol and tobacco, lack of physical activity and poor diet. He further urged the commission to be active in the fight against diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, cancers and cardiac diseases.

One of the areas Minister Anthony recommended for attention by the commission is in the fight against cervical, breast and prostate cancer. In particular the Minister expressed disappointment in the low rate of HPV vaccination and the low uptake of VIA in the fight against cervical cancer. The Minister also expressed dismay in the increasingly poor diet that Guyanese consume, particularly, high sugar and salt diet. The Minister also expressed a desire for increasing the profile of mental health in the work of both the Ministry and the commission.

More than 41M (71%) of the 58M deaths per year in the world are due to the NCDs. In addition, the NCDs contribute the majority of the Global Burden of Diseases. In Guyana, 68% of all deaths are linked to the NCDs. Not surprisingly, there is a growing global focus on innovative strategies to effectively respond to the NCD crisis. In this regard, increasing attention is being paid to the value of National NCD Commissions as platforms for achieving truly multi-sectoral, health-in-all-policies responses to the NCD epidemic.

In the Caribbean, the mandate originally derived from the 2007 Port of Spain Declaration: Uniting to Stop the Epidemic of NCDs, issued by the Heads of Government of CARICOM in 2007. One of the commitments made in the declaration was the establishment of National Commissions on NCDs, or analogous bodies, to plan and coordinate the comprehensive prevention and control of chronic NCDs. In response to this call, since 2007, many CARICOM countries responded by establishing National NCD Commissions to foster a whole of society and whole of government response to chronic diseases.

Even before this declaration, Guyana had established a National Oversight Committee on NCDs, the forerunner of the National Commission on the NCDs, chaired by the then Minister of Health, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy. In 2014, Cabinet stamped the oversight committee to become the Presidential National Commission on the NCDs (Cabinet decision on April 1, 2014). The Cabinet decision approved the establishment of the National Commission for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases and the proposed Terms of Reference (TOR). The Cabinet decision further agreed that the Ministry of Health will budget resources for the Commission. The Cabinet further mandated that the Commission be launched on Caribbean Wellness Day, 2014 which is usually in September. Guyana’s Presidential Commission on the Prevention and Control of NCDs was again affirmed by a Cabinet decision on January 24, 2017 and it was re-launched by the President in December 2017.

Outside of the Port of Spain Declaration, the Presidential National Commission for the Prevention and Control of NCDs in Guyana, like the National Commissions on the NCDs in other CARICOM and non-CARICOM countries, further derived their mandate from:

Recommendations from the UN High-Level Meeting (2008) on the NCDs
Framework Convention on Tobacco Control
WHO – Nutrition, Physical Activity Resolution
WHO Global NCD Action Plan 2013-2020
PAHO NCD Regional Action Plan 2013-2019
Caribbean Cooperation in Health Phase IV (CCHIV, 2016-2025)
National NCD Strategic Plans (In Guyana’s case the 2013-2020 Strategic Plan)
The role of Guyana’s Presidential Commission on the Prevention and Control of NCDs are as follows:

1. To raise awareness among the public and among decision makers of the burden of chronic diseases locally and regionally, their common risk factors across the life-span and effective evidenced-based interventions to prevent and control Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), in collaboration with the media and other organizations.

2. To advise the government on policies, legislation and national mechanism to plan, coordinate and evaluate implementation of national strategies and programs for the prevention and control of NCDs, taking into account the obligations conferred by the Port of Spain Declaration, as well as other national, regional and global obligations.

3. To advise the Minister of Health on existing gaps related to NCD prevention and control in other government ministries and agencies and make recommendations for closing those gaps in the shortest possible time in order to create supportive environments to encourage and promote behaviour change for the prevention of NCDs.

4. To broker effective involvement of all relevant sectors in program implementation – the private sector, public sector, non-governmental organizations and civil society, including faith-based organizations – in the joint implementation of the National NCD Prevention and Control Plan of Action.

5. To mobilize, recognise, and scale-up the efforts that companies, organisations, and countries undertake individually and collectively to promote health and prevent and control heart diseases, stroke, cancer, hypertension, diabetes, and obesity. e.g. in relation to food availability, affordability and importation, environmental and work place issues, measures to increase participation in physical activity, tobacco control, and other strategies to promote healthy lifestyles.

6. To advocate for and assist in mobilization of resources to facilitate implementation of NCD prevention and control plan and programmes.

7. To promote the establishment of collaboration and partnerships with the universities and institutions of higher learning and other international institutions and organisations as appropriate to and for the pursuit of these goals, including surveillance, monitoring and evaluation and a relevant research agenda. [Extracted and Modified from DPI]