Small states adopt action plan for health and climate crises

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Measuring blood pressure (photo:courtesy of Cottonbro Studio)

The 2023 Bridgetown Declaration on Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs) and Mental Health was launched to address some of the world’s deadliest diseases in Small Island Developing States (SIDS), which are especially at risk. The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that, the Declaration is a key outcome of the SIDS Ministerial Conference on Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs) and Mental Health which ran from 14 to 16 June and was co-hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Government of Barbados.

SIDS are disproportionately impacted by NCDs – which cause 74 per cent of all deaths globally – due to their reliance on imported food, commercial influences and the climate crisis. A new WHO report shows that eight of the 15 countries with more than a 30 per cent risk of premature death from cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, or chronic respiratory disease are SIDS. The 10 countries with the highest obesity rates, globally, are all SIDS in the Pacific, where over 45 per cent of adults live with obesity.

Mental health conditions are common in SIDS, affecting an estimated 15.2 per cent of the population in the Caribbean and 11.2 per cent of the population in the Pacific. People with mental health conditions face a higher risk of premature mortality, including from unaddressed physical health conditions and from suicide. Stigma, specialized staff shortages and the impact of climate change contribute to a challenging situation in SIDS that requires immediate attention.

The 2023 Bridgetown Declaration outlines bold steps to address the range of social, environmental, economic and commercial issues that lead to NCDs and mental health conditions. Developed through an inclusive process led ‘for’ and ‘by’ SIDS, the declaration highlights that NCDs and mental health conditions cannot be properly addressed without responding to the climate crisis. “Bold action for our climate, good health, and well-being relies on redressing and reorganizing global financing to unlock billions in investment, while making it less punishing for developing countries to pay their debts,” said Her Excellency Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley of Barbados. “Funding for climate change adaptation and mitigation in the most vulnerable countries is also key, with noncommunicable diseases and mental health accounted for”.

“The challenges faced by Small Island Developing States are interconnected and multifaceted. Climate change, environmental degradation, social and economic inequalities, and the commercial determinants of health exacerbate the burden of NCDs and mental health conditions”, said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “Despite their limited resources and geographical constraints, these nations have shown remarkable resilience in the face of adversity. Together, we must forge a path that is based on equity, resilience, and sustainability. We must strengthen health systems, enhance prevention and early detection measures, and prioritize the integration of NCD and mental health services into primary health care”.

The Director-General also pledged that WHO would work to mobilize financial resources to develop climate resilient, environmentally sustainable health-care facilities in the SIDS. WHO will also continue to advocate for ‘loss and damage’ funding for climate change adaptation and mitigation investments in lower income countries.

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