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Caribbean journalists to raise awareness on non-communicable diseases

5 August 2011
Workshop equips Caribbean journalists to better inform the public of life-threatening NCDs and to influence policy-makers

Journalists from the Caribbean will this week put the spotlight on the non-communicable diseases (NCDs) epidemic, at a workshop organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Pan American Health Organization.

The workshop in Barbados on 5-6 August 2011 aims to equip journalists with the capacity to report on the NCDs epidemic and to raise public awareness, ahead of the UN High-Level Meeting on NCDs in September 2011.

NCDs kill 35 million people every year. They include: diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancers and chronic respiratory diseases.

The main risk factors that contribute to the development of NCDs include tobacco use, unhealthy diets, harmful use of alcohol and physical inactivity.

Yet despite NCDs being the leading cause of death in almost every country across the world, it is still unclear about the level of public understanding on NCDs.

The Director in charge of Health at the Secretariat, Dr Sylvia Anie, noted that the media is a potent tool for health advocacy and to effect action and to alter people’s view on issues.

“The Commonwealth Secretariat recognises that sustainable and targeted media advocacy can bring a desired change in behaviour, in this case to address non-communicable diseases,” she said.

“To ensure accurate and timely reporting on NCDs journalists must be equipped with adequate tools and information, hence this media training in the Caribbean.”

NCDs are recognised as one of the biggest threats to developing countries with 80 per cent of deaths from NCDs occurring in middle and low income countries.

In 2010 Commonwealth health ministers agreed on a roadmap on NCDs to identify activities to increase change in this area.

The health adviser for the Secretariat's Social Transformation Programmes Division, Vanessa Baugh, said one of the responses was a media strategy to promote awareness on the impacts of NCDs.

“This workshop seeks to increase journalists’ knowledge in the region on NCDs, and to prepare them for the forthcoming UN High-Level Meeting on NCDs.

“Participants will be equipped to better communicate on this health crisis and ways in which the public can reduce their risk of acquiring an NCD,” she explained.

The workshop will introduce journalists to topical issues such as NCDs risk factors and policy changes.

Journalists will also have the chance to interview experts on NCDs and look at advocacy initiatives already underway in the Caribbean.

“We hope that as a result of the workshop, participants will return to their home country and increase reporting on the NCDs epidemic. We hope they will be better equipped with technical knowledge,” said Ms Baugh.

The rising cost of dealing with NCDs is a heavy burden on health systems and economies.

During the workshop journalists will view the Secretariat’s new video campaign on the risks of NCDs to young people.

The film ‘Non-Communicable Diseases - The World’s Biggest Killer’ asks governments to address the main risk factors that contribute to the development of NCDs.

Dr Anie said the Commonwealth will roll out training across the Commonwealth, in collaboration with regional media networks.