Wed | Dec 6, 2023

Why you need to start screening for non-communicable diseases

Published:Wednesday | August 17, 2022 | 12:10 AMKeisha Hill/Senior Gleaner Writer
Alcohol use contributes to the development of non-communicable diseases.
Alcohol use contributes to the development of non-communicable diseases.
An overweight person consuming fast food, which is major cause of obesity.
An overweight person consuming fast food, which is major cause of obesity.
Smoking is another major cause of non-communicable diseases.
Smoking is another major cause of non-communicable diseases.

THE MINISTRY of Health and Wellness is redoubling efforts to tackle a lesser known pandemic among the Jamaican population: non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

NCDs are also known as lifestyle diseases and can be chronic. These include hypertension (high blood pressure), cardiovascular disease, cancer, lung disease, diabetes (high blood sugar), and mental disorders. NCDs tend to last for a long period and are associated with common risk factors associated with tobacco use, excess alcohol use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and air pollution.

The health ministry says it has been consistent with its public education campaign, utilising traditional and non-traditional media and community engagement. However, while public health experts are convinced that the message is resonating among the population, they feel many are not heeding the call for action. There is also the misconception harboured by many persons that once you feel well, then everything is well. So, the typical reaction is, ‘I feel well. Why do I need to go for screening?’

Screening is a process of testing for a condition before you have symptoms. It helps you find out if you may have a particular disease or condition. Sometimes, you may not show any signs or symptoms of the disease. But early detection through screening, followed by treatment and control of the condition, can result in a good outcome and lowers the risk of serious complications.

Despite the slow response, the health ministry says it remains undaunted as it encourages Jamaicans to be proactive about their health and general well-being by pre-emptively seeking medical advice on how to live a healthy lifestyle by maintaining a healthy diet, weight, and some amount of physical activity.

According to Dr Julia Rowe Porter, acting director of the Non-Communicable Disease and Injury Prevention Unit in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, the aim is to get Jamaicans to see health screening as critical to their health and wellness.

“While we do continue to concentrate on overall health education programmes, we now wish to take an approach that encourages people to see their doctor when they are well, not only when they are feeling ill or have a medical situation. Screening needs to become a part of everyone’s regimen,” Rowe Porter said.

To achieve this, she says the health ministry will be rolling out medical liaisons at both private and public medical facilities to engage the population. “The idea is that the moment you enter your doctor’s office, or any of our clinics or health centres, we will have medical liaisons highlighting the importance of prevention, as a means to reduce the number of patients requiring medical treatment or surgery,” Rowe Porter said.

“By getting the correct health services, screenings, and treatment, you are taking important steps towards living a longer, healthier life,” she added.

The starting age and frequency of screening depends on the risk associated with these conditions, and these can vary based on personal history, family history, and other risk factors such as tobacco and alcohol use, which is a common risk factor for many NCDs.

Your doctor can advise you based on these factors when it is best for you to screen, and how frequently you should screen. Screening tests range from blood pressure checks to blood tests, stool tests and investigations such as Pap smears, digital rectal examinations and mammograms. Many conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and high blood cholesterol often have no early signs or symptoms.

Planning your screening in advance can make a difference to your overall health and well-being, and ultimately your quality of life. Visit for more information. The ministry’s website is easy to navigate and equipped with tools to help you to start your screening regimen.

Benefits of screening or regular check-ups include:

• Maintaining and safeguarding good health in persons found to be free of NCDs

• Raised awareness of your individual risks for developing NCDs

• Expert guidance and support for lifestyle changes required to reduce risks (e.g. weight loss, increased physical activity, healthy diets and stress management)

• Prevention or delay in developing some NCDs

• Detection of potentially life-threatening health conditions or diseases early

• Increased chances for treatment and cure if problems are found early

• Limited risks of complications by closely monitoring existing conditions

• Increased lifespan and improved health

• Reduced healthcare costs over time by avoiding costly medical services

• Forming a good partnership with your healthcare provider so that patient management can be more efficient

• Getting updated on new medical information or technologies that are available

In Jamaica, routine screening is recommended for the following:

· Colorectal cancer

· Breast cancer

· Cervical cancer

· Prostate cancer

· Hypertension

· Diabetes

· Depression

SOURCE: Ministry of Health and Wellness