Caribbean states’ interventions to prevent non-communicable diseases (NCDs) have reached a turning point with the global pandemic.
In a region that was already faced with overweight, obesity, unhealthy diets, a lack of meaningful action to stem NCDs can be problematic.
This warning came out of a PAHO panel discussion on Monday morning.
It addressed the increase of NCDs in the region, the human rights approach and front-of-packaging warning labeling.
Anand Grover, former UN special rapporteur on the Right to Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental health, said global trade and increased foreign direct investment in the food sector, as well as pervasive marketing of unhealthy foods, had increased the consumption of unhealthy foods, fats, trans fats, sugars and sodium, which have been linked to diet-related NCDs.
He said, “Thousands of people are dying in Latin America and the Caribbean and we need to take action. In the food sector there is the marketing of unhealthy foods which have of course increased consumption.
“Citizens have the right to the availability and accessibility of healthier food options, including increasing information and awareness about the health risks posed by unhealthy foods.”
Grover said states have the obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the need for various accountability and remedial mechanisms to redress healthy food options.
“The right to health is incorporated in the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, which many countries have ratified and incorporated in common-law or civil-law systems,” Grover said.
Nicole Foster, a lecturer at the Faculty of Law at UWI, Cave Hill, said while having international laws and ratification is fine, integrating them into culture and ways of thinking was also critical to promote a healthy region.
“Children are a special group, but with other groups as well, governments have an obligation to implement and integrate human rights into how we operate. It is not just about health advocates wanting better, but it is also about the science,” Foster pointed out.
The discussion also recognised the need to regulate the activities of the food and beverage industries and the need to counter the influence of corporations on government in the decision-making process.
Other Conventions such as the Right of the Child and also articles in the Office of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights outline the various criteria that should be available to assist with decisions in choosing foods and products for consumption.