Thu | Dec 7, 2023

Tufton sounds alarm on lifestyle diseases

Health minister urges J’cans to engage screening to stem premature death

Published:Thursday | May 4, 2023 | 1:11 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Parliamentary Reporter

HIGHLIGHTING “ALARMING” statistics of the deleterious effects of lifestyle diseases on Jamaicans, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton says his ministry will roll out an initiative this year aimed at getting people to screen at least once annually to know their health status and how to adjust behaviour to reduce illness and premature death.

Dubbed ‘Know Your Numbers’, the healthy lifestyle initiative is seeking to get 500,000 screening tests done this year to provide Jamaicans the opportunity to become aware of what they are vulnerable to and the necessary action to be taken in order to correct this through lifestyle changes.

In his contribution to the Sectoral Debate in Parliament yesterday, Tufton said the Know Your Numbers plan of action is a practical response to the biggest health crisis facing the country today – lifestyle diseases and premature mortality.

According to Tufton, Jamaicans are dying primarily from lifestyle-related diseases.

“Too many Jamaicans are walking sick and they do not know until they tumble down, a heart attack, a stroke, that’s just the reality,” the minister said.

He divulged that an estimated 236,000 or nine per cent of the country’s population have diabetes, and only 106,000 of these persons, or 45 per cent, are aware of their status.

Additionally, Tufton said that 95,030 have one or more complications related to diabetes. These complications, based on expert advice, are likely to lead to amputation, chronic kidney disease, and heart attack.


The health and wellness minister also noted that approximately 679,000, or a quarter of all Jamaicans, have hypertension, with only about 54 per cent or 374,000 being aware that they have the condition, which is one of the leading causes of stroke.

Tufton reported that in 2020, almost 7,500 Jamaicans had a stroke; 2,400 died and the balance had a disability and needed therapy.

“Many had to stop from work and someone had to take care of them,” he noted.

The minister said that an estimated 75 per cent of Jamaicans could avoid a stroke if they were aware of the warning signs through screening and took corrective action.

“These statistics are alarming as knowing your basic health information is a critical first step in taking personal responsibility. What is your blood pressure? When last have you checked? What is your blood sugar number? What is your body mass index or what is your HIV status? These are questions to which every Jamaican should have at least an idea if not a definite number,” Tufton said.

Tufton said that in 2017, one in three or 33 per cent of women aged 15 years and older never had a Pap smear, while greater than two-thirds of women had never had a mammogram.

Further, he said that 28 per cent of Jamaican men aged 40 years and older had never done a digital rectal examination.

In a study exploring the health-seeking behaviour of older males, it was found that two-thirds or 67 per cent of participants had not visited a doctor or health facility in the last year. Only 35 per cent of participants had ever done a prostate exam.

As part of the Know Your Numbers health campaign, Tufton said that the ministry intends to bolster its offerings of health checks and promote health screening in public hospitals and clinics across the country.

“Screening will become a routine operating procedure through our primary reform programme, in particular our Life-Stage approach. This means, once you enter a health facility for any concern or examination, you will be provided with a health screening,” he said.