Health Minister, Dr. Kenneth Darroux, has sought to explain government’s decision on the implementation of new taxes in the 2015/2016 National Budget on certain unhealthy products.
He told a government-organized town hall meeting on Thursday night that the tax will go into programs aimed at combating Chronic Non Communicable Diseases (CNCDs).
Prime Minister, Roosevelt Skerrit during the budget presentation said a 10 percent tax increase will be placed on cigars, cigarettes, alcohol beverages, as well as food and drinks with high sugar content.
The Prime Minister justified the new taxes measure by citing the “bad practices” of smoking, excessive consumption of alcohol and foods with high sugar content, as major contributors to ill health.
Darroux told the town hall meeting that CNCDs are having a major impact on the island’s economy and the people.
“I have some statistics before me that shows for the period 2010 to 2014, we had 137 amputations performed due to diabetes, or rather uncontrolled diabetes, people not taking their medication, people probably not adhering to the diet that their doctor recommended,” he stated.
The Health Minister revealed other statistics, which he described as “very frightening.”
“For the period 2004 to 2013 we had 1,188 deaths due to various types of cancer, and the alarming thing about the cancer is that whereas before certain types of cancers prevailed up in what we call the geriatric age, we see these cancers appearing in younger patients and younger patients, people with scores of productive years ahead of them,” he noted.
He mentioned further that the incident of obesity among the 0 to 5 age group is 3.4 percent, while 6.9 percent of children of that age group is overweight.
“Obesity in adult females is estimated as 32.7 percent and adult males a 8.6 percent,” Dr. Darroux noted. “The prevalence of high blood pressure among adults is 32.1 percent; one of every 3 adults in Dominica is hypertensive and diabetes 17.7 percent, one out of every 10.”
He added, “So these measures that were put in this year’s budget you can understand, as the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance stated and stressed in his presentation, it is not a measure to earn income and he mentioned that the monies raised from these will go into programs as it pertains to combating CNCDs,” he said.
Dr. Darroux is also took aim at critics of the island’s health care system.
“I refuse to sit by or standby or lie down and allow people to say that the health sector or the health services in Dominica is the worst in the region or the worst in the world,” he said. “We are certainly in a much better place where we are today…”
He indicated that over the years the government has made a number of policy moves to ensure that the health service in Dominica is up to par.
“We can speak to the policy of free medical service or free medical care to people 18 years and under or attending school and also 60 and above,” he noted. “We can speak to a new intensive care unit which over the years would have save the lives of a number of people especially those involved in acute diseases, accidents, before flying them over if necessary to overseas hospitals.”
He said that there has been an increase in the number of dialysis machines for people on renal failure.
“We have a whole diagnostic unit at the Princess Margaret Hospital where we have new state of the art CT Scan machines, mammograms, electronic and digitalized X-rays,” he remarked. “Of course we are not where we want to be, but if we look at what is happening in the world today I don’t think that any one country is where it wants to be in the health sector.”