September 18, 2019

St Kitts & Nevis: Prime Minister Dr. the Hon. Timothy Harris’ remarks at the official launch of SKN Moves Independence Square Friday, August 9th, 2019

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It is a particular pleasure for me to be here with you this afternoon at the official launch of SKN Moves. 

Today’s important launch is set against the backdrop of the chronic non-communicable disease (CNCD) epidemic. The NCDs are the leading causes of morbidity in the Federation. The main NCDs affecting our people are Diabetes, Hypertension and their complications, which include: Chronic kidney disease (with over 30 persons on hemodialysis as at the end of April 2019), stroke, cancer, heart disease, and amputations (average of 38 per year over the 5-year period 2012 – 2016). The Oncology Unit at the JNF General Hospital became operational in December 2016, and between then and February 2019, care was provided to 119 patients and over 70% of these were females.

NCDs are taking too many of our productive citizens in the prime of their lives – in their 60s, 50s, 40s, 30s and 20s.  Some die way too early before reaching their allotment of 3 scores and 10, much to our collective shock and dismay.  The harsh reality is: too many of our vivacious citizens and residents from all socioeconomic backgrounds – bankers, beauty queens, church leaders, community organizers, delivery drivers, doctors, electricians, engineers, laborers, lawyers, and the list goes on – are diagnosed and sometimes cut down in full bloom.  

Like the bright and dancing flame of a vibrant candle blown out by a sudden draught of wind, many young and middle-aged lives are snuffed out, leaving us bereft of their light and love that are gone too soon because of chronic non-communicable diseases.

Avoidable Deaths

This state of affairs must not be allowed to continue in our beloved Federation.  For far too long, we have been facing a major health crisis that threatens the very sustainability of our CARICOM Community.

In processing our collective grief, we search for answers and a sense of community on social media, in church, and on the phone.  The conversation often goes: “I saw such and such in the supermarket the other day, and I didn’t know she was sick.  She looked healthy.” 

Or sometimes we learn that someone has been diagnosed with cancer, but we can’t believe it.  Why not?  That person is too young, that person is too wealthy, that person is too pretty and all the other attributes that bias our judgments and perpetuate misconceptions about disease causation.

The fact is we are all susceptible to chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs).  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Most diseases involve many genes in complex interactions, in addition to environmental influences.  An individual may not be born with a disease but may be at high risk of acquiring it.  This is called a genetic predisposition or susceptibility.”

The WHO adds that, “Understanding genetic predisposition to disease and knowledge of lifestyle modifications that either exacerbate the condition or that lessen the potential for diseases (i.e., no smoking or drinking) is necessary for the public to make informed choices.”

Lifestyle Diseases

In the case of chronic non-communicable diseases, tobacco use, physical inactivity, the harmful use of alcohol, and unhealthy diets all increase the risk of dying from an NCD, according to the World Health Organization – and it is thus absolutely paramount that a public education campaign be launched as a crucial salvo in this urgent public health battle.

Three years ago, I said exactly this while addressing the United Nations General Assembly on September 24th, 2016 in my capacity as Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis and lead spokesman for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) on Human Resources, Health and HIV/AIDS.

I said, “It is essential that more is invested in education to promote healthier lives and healthier food choices, as well as to help people make the right lifestyle choices, because several of these non-communicable diseases are preventable.”

CARICOM Heads of Government supported by their Ministers of Health subsequently have agreed to implement a region-wide health promotion programme to encourage three behaviours among the general population considered critical for the prevention and control of NCDs: physical activity, healthy eating, and getting routine and age-appropriate health checks.  The region-wide health initiative will be modeled after the highly successful Jamaica Moves programme – and St. Kitts and Nevis (SKN) Moves is a direct result of this.

SKN Moves

In the context of Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases, the SKN Moves Programme will seek to create a healthy lifestyle culture centred on healthy eating practices, regular physical activity and regular health checks/screenings.

The aim is to promote healthy lifestyle choices throughout the settings where people live, play, work and learn. Three main settings will be targeted: (1) the workplace setting, (2) the school setting and  (3) the community at large.

The Objectives of SKN Moves are:

  1. A 10% relative reduction of physical inactivity in the population by 2025,
  2. A 5% increase in the population’s consumption of five (5) or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day, and
  3. A 5% increase in the number of persons accessing at least one medical check-up per year.

The overall goal is to achieve a 10% reduction in preventable premature deaths due to NCDs by 2025.

SKN MOVES is a national programme targeting all persons in the Federation including children, young adults, middle-aged adults and older adults. The programme will stimulate persons to adopt healthier lifestyles and behaviours to attain their highest level of wellness and productivity.  

Today, my Team Unity Government makes an important move in empowering the people of St. Kitts and Nevis to be more physically active in their daily lives, make healthier eating choices, and engage more regularly and meaningfully with the healthcare system.

The time to act is now!  The United Nations has also estimated that the cumulative loss to the global economy from non-communicable disease could reach $47 trillion by 2030 if things remain status quo.  The high medical costs associated with treating NCDs are simply unsustainable.  Prevention is indeed better and cheaper than cure.

Today we come to highlight the importance of physical activity for our health and wellness.

I also encourage all of you to stick around Independence Square this afternoon to take part in the fitness workouts, if you can.  I want to commend the Ministers of Health, as well as the CMO and their hardworking team, including staff of the Office of the Prime Minister, for putting together the launch of SKN Moves.

I invite as many of you as possible to join me on the National Health Walk tomorrow, Saturday, starting at Caribbean Cinemas and ending at the last roundabout in Frigate Bay.  The walk starts at 5:00am, and there will be free T-shirts and refreshments – most importantly though, there will be a united front to stamp out the scourge of non-communicable disease.

St Kitts-Nevis Officially On The Move

It is my distinct pleasure to now declare St. Kitts and Nevis (SKN) Moves officially on the move.  Let us not stop moving even when we have reached our targets, and may we do this in remembrance of all those we have lost.  This worthwhile initiative is in memory of all of them, and it is for all of us, lest we continue to expose ourselves to the ravages of these diseases.

May God bless the souls of the departed, may He bless and comfort the sick, and may He show us how to live our best lives in the company of those we love for as long as possible.  God bless St. Kitts and Nevis!

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