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Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) in Jamaica

by Deon Clarke | Associate Writer

What Are Non-Communicable Diseases?

You might have often heard the term “non-communicable diseases” but might not be sure of what this means. Non-communicable diseases are those that are not transferable through contact with others but instead, develop through family genetics, degenerative changes (normal or traumatic wear and tear of the body) or unhealthy lifestyle habits.

Non-communicable diseases have put the Jamaican health care system under some serious pressure over time and are the leading cause of death among Jamaicans.

The Ministry of Health reported that in 2015, an estimated seven out of ten Jamaicans died from the four major NCDs; Cancer, Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes and Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease. It was also reported that these deaths, as well as permanent disability and compromised quality of life could have been prevented.

In response to the Coronavirus, the Cabinet approved a comprehensive multi-sectoral National Strategic and Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of NCDs in Jamaica. This would continue through to 2018. As a result of this, the framework was provided for a national response to NCDs.

The objective is to have a 25% reduction in preventable morbidity and disability and avoid premature mortality caused by non-communicable diseases and injuries by the year 2025. This plan covers seven main categories of diseases, namely; cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases, sickle cell disease, mental health and injuries.

The 4 Main Types Of Non-Communicable Diseases in Jamaica

  1. Cancer - The big C. The fear of many Jamaicans, which I’m inclined to believe is the reason some are so against visiting the doctor. They are afraid to hear they have cancer. Jamaicans have long been plagued by a number of cancers including; breast cancer, lung cancer, blood cancer, prostate cancer, and cervical cancer. Unfortunately, the numbers keep rising although, it is something that can be prevented. However, it is still important to note that many Jamaicans cannot afford to eat healthy, which could reduce the risk of some of these cancers. Another important fact to consider, is that most persons are not educated enough about what they should or should not consume to prevent these cancers.

  2. Cardiovascular Disease - Another big one here! Heart Disease, officially known as Cardiovascular Disease (CVD), is the group of disorders of the heart and blood vessels. These disorders include hypertension, coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease (stroke), heart failure and congenital heart disease, among others. Almost everywhere you go in Jamaica, you hear persons complain of hypertension. Additionally, a good number of Jamaicans suffer from obesity. All this goes right back to diet again.

    The Government is painfully aware of the problem and has increased taxation on these products in an attempt to curtail the amount that is consumed. They also asked drink manufacturers to reduce sugar content. Manufacturers have since reduced their sugar content by as much as 50% and are even offering more sugar-free options. A policy was also instituted in schools, where a ban was placed on sugary drinks starting in January 2019 to help curb the problem. Efforts have also been made to encourage Jamaicans to reduce their salt intake while the Government conducts research on the salt consumption among Jamaicans. Truth be told, Jamaicans consume too much sugar and salt.

  3. Diabetes – Diabetes is a leading cause of heart and blood vessel disease as well as a leading cause of heart damage for Jamaicans. Approximately 54,000 Jamaicans do not even know they have diabetes and over 220,000 Jamaicans between the ages of 15 and 74 years old, have been diagnosed with the illness. This is about 13.6% of the population. Diet, again is a significant factor in this development.

  4. Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease - Chronic Respiratory Diseases (CRDs) are the diseases of the airways and other structures of the lung. Some of the most common diseases you will find are asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), occupational lung diseases, and pulmonary hypertension. The risk factors include smoking, air pollution, occupational chemicals and dust, and frequent lower respiratory infections during childhood. Unfortunately, CRDs are not curable, however, there are a number of treatment options available that help dilates major air passages and improve shortness of breath. Jamaicans tend to be more affected by asthma.

Important Points About NCDs in Jamaica

  • NCDs are the leading cause of death in Jamaica and accounts for about 79% of all deaths.

  • There is a continuous increase in the number of individuals who suffer from at least one NCD in Jamaica.

  • NCDs affect the quality of life of individuals and also creates a high economic burden on the individual and their family.

  • The typical Jamaican diet give rise to NCDs as it contains a high volume of sugars and salt. The average Jamaican is not financially able to maintain a healthy diet. For those especially who live outside of a farming community, it might be difficult to source fruits and vegetables at an affordable price.

  • Most jobs, especially for females, do not require much physical activity and therefore most Jamaicans do not fulfil the required amount of daily exercise. Lack of exercise is a contributing factor to some NCDs.

How Can You Protect Yourself From Non-Communicable Diseases?

Now that you have a better understanding of NCDs, here are some tips on how you can protect yourself.

  1. Reduce tobacco use and smoking
  2. Increase physical activity - exercise
  3. Maintain a healthy diet – less salt, less sugar, less red meat, eat more fruits and vegetables
  4. Reduce alcohol use
  5. Reduce and manage stress levels

Remember, NCDs are preventable for the most part. This means you have a fighting chance to prevent or reduce the effects by your actions.

So, why not lead the charge and educate yourself and your family about living and maintaining a healthy lifestyle today?

I also recommend you read How to Find the Best Health and Medical Insurance in Jamaica.


  • Jamaica | Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, Health Data,
  • Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases, Ministry of Health & Wellness, Jamaica,
  • Get The Facts - Your Heart and COVID-19, Jamaica Information Service
  • What are NCDs?, Jamaica Moves,
  • Chronic Respiratory Diseases (CRDs), Healthy Caribbean Coalition,

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