Study on alcohol links to NCDs aimed at cutting healthcare costs, Tufton
The Ministry of Health and Wellness will be embarking on a study to determine how the harmful use of drugs, specifically alcohol, contributes to an increase in non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
Conclusions from the nine-month research will facilitate evidence-based initiatives and develop a national policy geared at reducing the use of these harmful substances.
“This is in keeping with our mandate. We do it with sugar, we [are] doing it with salt, we [are] doing it with tobacco … . We have to come to terms with this challenge of lifestyle-related risks and find a way to look beyond where we are now,” Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton said at the launch ceremony on Wednesday.
The $17.5-million study is commissioned by the National Council on Drug Abuse and will be conducted by Centre for Leadership and Governance at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona. It is being funded by the National Health Fund (NHF).
Professor Lloyd Waller, who heads the Centre for Leadership and Governance, is the lead on the study.
He said that the research will have two components: a desk study that looks at the implications of drug abuse on the health sector, and a survey conducted at the national and parish levels.
In its 2018 Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health, the World Health Organisation said that the harmful use of alcohol caused some 1.7 million deaths from NCDs in 2016, including some 1.2 million fatalities resulting from digestive and cardiovascular diseases.
Asserting that alcohol abuse is a big part of the health-related challenges in society, which also contributes to road fatalities, Tufton lamented that enough local and comprehensive data is not available on the issue.
Tufton declared that the study is a “very important as part of the overarching response to substance abuse”.
“Part of our response is to gather information because we don’t act based on anecdotes,” he said.
Contending that the Ministry has a duty to “examine and interrogate”, Tufton forewarned that the study should not be viewed as any attempt to discriminate against the alcohol industry, but rather as a means to reduce healthcare costs.
“We do appreciate that some may say that we are trying beat up on a particular industry or that we are comparing illicit with legal substance consumption … . The reality is we have to confront in a practical way the challenges that we face from a public health standpoint to the extent to which any substance – legal or illegal – that has the capacity and more importantly is in fact having a deleterious effect on consumption and health outcomes,” he said.
NHF CEO Everton Anderson said the agency has processed some 2.7 million prescriptions since it took over the operation of public pharmacies in 2016. This programme, he says, costs the Government 12 billion annually.
Disclosing that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the use of harmful substances, the Minister reiterated that the issue must be addressed in earnest.