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Eat to Live. Not to Die.

The data is deadly! Almost too scary to put into words. But it’s time to face the fat ugly truth: Suriname like so many of its Caribbean neighbors has joined the fat parade.  According to a local newspaper, 30% of the male population between the ages of 15 and 50 are well on their way to eating themselves to death. A recently published WHO/PAHO survey which looks at the risk factors associated with chronic diseases showed that Suriname is facing an obesity epidemic. According to the survey, obesity in Suriname has doubled in the past 35 years.  A quarter of the population has high cholesterol and approximately 20 percent suffers from high blood pressure while approximately 15 percent of the population suffers from diabetes. The survey also concluded that the Surinamese population exercises too little and in particular, more than half of Surinamese women fail to do any form of physical exercise. Even scarier is that cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancers, which can be directly linked to obesity and poor lifestyle habits are the cause of 60% of the deaths in Suriname. The Ministry of Health of Suriname estimates that the hospitalization costs for cardiovascular patients is approximately USD1 Million per year while dialysis costs are estimated at USD2 Million per year.

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Responding to this obesity crisis, the Ministry of Health has taken the policy decision to focus on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases (which is linked to obesity and poor lifestyle choices including alcohol and tobacco abuse).

In 2012, the IDB approved a Technical Cooperation (TC) in the sum of US$500,000 to support the Ministry’s efforts to fund key priority activities set out in Suriname’s 2012 – 2016 National Action Plan for Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) Prevention and Control. Specifically, the TC will focus on achieving the following specific objectives over a thirty month period: (i) Improved NCDs surveillance and evidence-based NCDs program interventions; (ii) a plan for sustained local management capacity through an integrated primary health/private partnership approach; and (iii) a deepened understanding of wider sector changes required over the next five years for Government to effectively manage NCDs.

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A key component of the TC includes the design and implementation of a public awareness program focusing on promoting a healthy life-style. The program will also include information on healthy foods to eat and the importance of cooking food with less fat and sugar. Pocket guidelines for screening of diabetes and hypertension will also be developed which will make it easier for health providers to do quick screenings as part of a patient’s routine visit.

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But as the Project Coordinator for the NCDs TC often says, the responsibility for one’s eating habits rests with the individual himself and one needs to remind himself that No njang foe dede, ma foe libi—eat to live, not to die!

Ian Ho-A-Shu is a Health Sector Specialist at the IADB.

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