The recently published “Public Health on Saba 2019-2022, A look at Sabans’ current health and our vision to promote health further” was presented to the public during a townhall meeting at the Sunny Valley Youth Center in The Bottom on Wednesday evening, July 10.
Head of the Public Health Department Koen Hulshof and Nurse Marja van Kuppevelt explained what the report entailed, and what the plans are in the coming years in the area of public health. Commissioner of Public Health Rolando Wilson opened the townhall meeting and welcomed those that attended. St. Maarten Cardiologist Dr. Emiko Bird-Lake spoke about heart diseases and how important it is to have a healthy lifestyle.
Dr. Bird-Lake comes to Saba once a month to see her patients. She said the number of patients has increased and that is why she urged people to take good care of their heart, “the engine of your body.” In her well-received presentation, the cardiologist provided most interesting information about controllable risk factors of heart attacks such as stress, obesity, smoking, high cholesterol, diabetes, hypertension and physical inactivity. She explained how people can lower these risks through a healthy lifestyle.
On June 3, Commissioner of Health Rolando Wilson and the Public Health Department published the report, and shortly after, he presented the report to State Secretary of Public Health, Wellbeing and Sports Paul Blokhuis during a visit to The Hague. At that time, the Health Prevention and Sports Accord was signed with associated additional funding becoming available.
The Public Health Monitor and Plans for 2019-2022 describes the current health of Saba residents, the major health issues that people face, and lists the items that government will focus on for the coming years: a healthy lifestyle, non-communicable diseases, infectious diseases, a healthy youth. The document, which is available on the website of the Public Entity Saba, has a visual approach and includes many graphics to improve readability.
The good news is that most people on Saba feel healthy, but there are areas where people can do better by making smart choices, such as consuming less alcohol and sugary drinks, by refraining from smoking and by engaging in more physical exercise. The biggest threats to people’s health on Saba are: non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, chronic heart and lung disease, dementia, and some cancers.
A healthy lifestyle can prevent these diseases to a large extent. Research has shown that alcohol and tobacco consumption on Saba is much higher than on the two other Caribbean Netherlands islands Bonaire and St. Eustatius. Also, the number of children and adults on Saba who are overweight is deemed very worrisome.
Government and its partners will continue to facilitate the healthier choices, by for example, strengthening the local sports culture, offering healthier food options in schools and day care, and improving healthy lifestyle awareness in schools and in organizations. Government will seriously consider deploying tools to facilitate healthier behavior by lowering the prices of healthy products, while at the same time making alcohol, cigarettes and sugar more expensive.
Government will also work towards finding diseases faster, by for example, implementing structured breast and cervical cancer screening programs, and towards treating these diseases more effective through multidisciplinary programs.
Infectious diseases like zika, chikungunya and dengue have had a big impact on the Caribbean region, and new epidemics by these or other mosquito-borne diseases are likely to happen. Germs resistance to medication is increasing worldwide, and a global outbreak of a new virus will happen at some point.
Saba will further improve its surveillance in the area of infectious diseases and continue to train its healthcare workers. Assistance of residents is sought by reducing possible mosquito breeding sites around the house, by taking measures to prevent from getting infected when travelling abroad, by washing hands often and well, by ventilating the work place and schools, by practicing safe sex, and by handling food safely.
The youth play a key role in achieving a healthier Saba. By supporting, educating and monitoring parents and children, it is possible to create a generation of adults that can adapt to challenges and take control of their own health. This is done through frequent one-on-one consultations, classes on different parenting and health topics, training day care and after school staff, and signaling and supporting vulnerable children and families.
Poverty is common on Saba and the report shows that local residents with lower incomes feel less healthy. With the assistance of the Dutch Government, the Public Entity Saba will strive for a healthy lifestyle that is attainable for everyone, that high quality healthcare is accessible for all, and that a poor health will not lead to poverty.