Tackling the multiple causes of ill health in Belize requires efforts across government ministries and civil society

Belize City, Belize, 14 February 2017 (PAHO) - Improving health in Belize requires addressing multiple causes and therefore depends on actions by sectors beyond health, the Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr. Carissa F. Etienne, told a group of senior government officials this week in an official visit to the Central American country.

"Multisectoral work will be fundamental to effectively address the main causes of death in Belize," Etienne said in a meeting with officials from the ministries of health, education, human development, environment, agriculture, and transportation and the Belize Road Safety Committee.

Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs)-including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases-are the leading causes of death in Belize, as in other countries of the Americas. In Belize, 4 in 10 deaths are due to NCDs, and almost half of those deaths are premature (before age 70).

"Addressing the causes of these diseases-tobacco use, harmful consumption of alcohol, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity-requires multisectoral solutions," said Etienne. "The health sector cannot do it alone. Health is everyone's business."

"If the Ministry of Agriculture helps families produce food for consumption and for sale, that alone helps to improve health," said Etienne. Similarly, improving health requires action by other sectors such as promoting physical activity in schools, regulating tobacco use, taxing sugary drinks and labeling food as well as building safe roads and enforcing road safety laws to prevent traffic injuries and deaths.

The new Sustainable Development Objectives (SDGs), which were agreed by United Nations member countries, also advocate joint efforts across sectors of government and society. "We cannot have prosperity and development if we have a sick population," said Etienne.

Belize Minister of Health Pablo Marín agreed that "the health of our people depends on all of us." Judith Alpuche, Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Human Development, added, "We must act together in some areas to address the multiple issues that are negatively impacting the health of our population."

Another issue discussed in the meeting was the growing problem of antimicrobial resistance, which causes drugs to lose their ability to cure infections. Addressing this problem also requires action across sectors of government and society to ensure the optimal use of antibiotics in both humans and animals to prevent the emergence and spread of resistance.

Participants in the meeting included Minister of Agriculture Godwin Hulse, Minister of Human Development Anthony Martinez, Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Education Deborah Domingo, Chief Environmental Officer Martín Alegría, President of the Belize Road Safety Commission Yvonne Hyde, PAHO Chief of Staff Merle Lewis, and PAHO/WHO Representative in Belize Luis Roberto Escoto, among other senior officials.