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By Theresa Goodwin

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Residents are being encouraged to pay closer attention to their health in an effort to avoid diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer, as the spiralling cost for care and treatment is placing increased burden on the healthcare system which is already crumbling by the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Health Minister Sir Molwyn Joseph made the impassioned plea during a national address Tuesday night where he shared that the government is spending millions of dollars annually to manage non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which is becoming a mounting concern.

The national address was made to mark the annual observance of National Vaccination Week in the Americas, this week. While highlighting the importance of vaccination, the minister also took the time highlight other challenges plaguing the healthcare sector, including NCDs.

“Over the last five years, we have spent over $131 million to provide medication for the treatment of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and hypertension.

“In 2016, for these diseases, we spent approximately $21 million. In 2017, it increased to $25 million and, in 2018, that amount increased to $28 million. It remains the same in 2019 and in 2020, the year of Covid-19, we spent approximately $30 million for medicines to treat these non-communicable diseases,” the minister revealed.

He stated further that for diabetes, specifically, $37 million was spent through the Medical Benefits Scheme, on medication and supplies, while $43 million was spent on cancer treatment.

“I give this information to put it into context the challenges facing healthcare in Antigua and Barbuda. If we are to look at Covid and the way we are responding, there is a similar pattern the way we respond to NCDs,” Joseph shared.

He explained that nationals, including himself, must exercise greater discipline in the foods that are consumed and the rate of consumption while also eliminating fats, salts and sugars in order to reverse the trend of NCDs.

“I am inviting the public to think of this Covid experience as an opportunity to renew the commitment to yourself, this is a time when we in Antigua need to put greater value on our health,” the minister insisted.