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Largest gathering of Caribbean advocates at cancer conference on St. Maarten


PHILIPSBURG–Some 20 cancer organizations representing 16 Caribbean countries gathered at the Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort on Thursday for the start of a two day Cervical Cancer Advocacy workshop.

President of the Healthy Caribbean Coalition (HCC) Professor Trevor Hassell said there has never been a coming together of such a large number of Caribbean cancer organizations, an achievement of which he is proud. Hassell, said too that due to the work of participants, the coalition now has a comprehensive and active audit of Caribbean cancer organizations as well as an audit of cervical cancer programmes in many Caribbean countries.

Health Minister Cornelius de Weever said although there is very little data available, it is known that non-communicable diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease are by far the leading cause of death in St. Maarten.

He said the country’s financial report shows that these diseases put a huge burden on the health care system of St. Maarten, placing an ever increasing burden on health care expenditures.

According to the minister non-communicable diseases are responsible for considerable loss of quality of life and are the main cause of premature death for both men and women. These diseases, he added, are preventable through healthy behaviour by eliminating casual risk factors such as tobacco use, unhealthy eating habits and a lack of physical exercise. The socio-economic burden can seriously be decreased by means of early detection and screening of diseases.

He said it is government’s responsibility to have in the country a health system receptive of and geared towards the needs of its user or users to ensure health and wealth for all people living in St. Maarten. This system must be maintained through a continuous cycle of quality improvement with technical expertise, information technology and input from the grass roots organizations. These are important sources of feedback for government to fine tune policies and legislation according to the needs of the people.

The minister said it is government’s goal to decrease and delay mortality and disability due to non-communicable diseases thereby increasing productivity and ultimately improving the quality of life and life expectancy.

Government’s decision to co-host and co-organise the workshop is not just a privilege, but also an opportunity to support and empower local stakeholders in their endeavours to continue to alleviate the burden of non-communicable diseases in general and cancer specifically. “As minister of health I see it as my duty to support this event of which the results will contribute to the health and wellbeing of our people in the Caribbean region,” the minister said.

Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams expressed hope that the discussions will provide participants with the kind of information necessary for them to continue their work in the area of cancer awareness and cancer prevention.

The information will serve as a basis for participants to strengthen their ties and commitment to their goals and objectives as individual Foundations. “As you focus on advocacy for brining that message across the region I encourage you to give it your best shot. There is a lot of available information and best practices and ideas and experiences that I am sure will be shared during this conference. I think all of your coming together is a powerful way of moving this message forward,” she said.

Cervical cancer is the second leading cause of death in the Caribbean with mortality rates higher than the developed countries such as the USA.

Raising awareness of this cancer and advocating steps to reduce the mortality rates is a priority concern of the HCC which has a key mandate to develop and strengthen the skills and organizational capacity of the various members involved in health throughout the Caribbean.

It is expected that the workshop attendees will have significantly strengthened cervical cancer advocacy capacity and take tangible steps towards the establishment of a Caribbean Cancer NGO “Network.”

HCC was formed in 2008. It arose out of a 2007 Declaration of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs).

The HCC is a regional network of Caribbean health NGOs and civil society organizations who are interested in addressing NCDs. HCC works closely with regional and international leaders in NCD prevention to leverage the power of civil society by strengthening and supporting membership in the implementation of programmes aimed at reducing the morbidity and mortality associated with NCDs.

President of the St. Maarten Cancer Foundation Graciella Zimmerman also spoke at the opening ceremony.

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