Health cri­sis in St He­lena as smok­ing and junk food take toll

The Daily Telegraph - - World news - By Sarah Knap­ton SCI­ENCE ED­I­TOR

THE re­mote British is­land of St He­lena is fac­ing a health time­bomb with seven in 10 adults now over­weight or obese, while half of its young peo­ple still smoke reg­u­larly.

The vol­canic out­post in the South At­lantic has a pop­u­la­tion of just 4,534, and many peo­ple suf­fer from chronic con­di­tions such as di­a­betes and heart dis­ease.

Ac­cord­ing to the is­land’s Health Direc­torate, 75 per cent of adults and 40 per cent of chil­dren are now over­weight or obese, 30 per cent have high blood pres­sure and 25 per cent have di­a­betes – in con­trast to 6 per cent of Bri­tain’s pop­u­la­tion.

The prob­lem lies in St He­lena’s iso­la­tion, with is­lan­ders de­pen­dent on im­ported pro­cessed food that can sur­vive the long jour­ney from South Africa.

An air­port opened last year, but pre­vi­ously lo­cals re­lied en­tirely on Royal Mail boat for sup­plies, which ar­rived ev­ery three weeks.

Lisa Nie­mand, the direc­torate’s nurs­ing of­fi­cer, said: “The in­ter­twined is­sues of geo­graph­i­cal iso­la­tion, low re­source base, dearth of spe­cial­ist skills and life­style risk fac­tors are a toxic chal­lenge for the health sec­tor here.

“There are large num­ber of smok­ers – par­tic­u­larly young smok­ers – preva­lent

‘The high in­ci­dence of can­cers and car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­eases are a ma­jor bur­den on the health sec­tor’

harm­ful al­co­hol use, and the global obe­sity epi­demic has been in­ten­si­fied by the lack of fresh food avail­able on the is­land and the de­pen­dence on im­ported long-life pro­duce.

“The con­se­quent high in­ci­dence of can­cers and car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­eases are a ma­jor fi­nan­cial bur­den on the health sec­tor as we have to of­fer treat­ment for many over­seas at high cost.”

Last year, Akeem Ali, St He­lena’s di­rec­tor of health ser­vices, wrote an open let­ter to pub­lic health or­gan­i­sa­tions ask­ing for help. One of the com­pa­nies to re­spond was Pa­tientsource, which has cre­ated a sys­tem that pulls to­gether health records and uses ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence to track symp­toms, spot dis­eases, de­tect de­te­ri­o­ra­tion and pre­vent ill­nesses from get­ting worse.

Pa­tientsource’s co-founder, for­mer NHS doc­tor Michael Brooks, said: “Doc­tors will be able to track progress in real time and iden­tify where to di­rect re­sources. The is­land will jump decades ahead of where they are now.”

St He­lena has also be­gun a cam­paign called Saints To­gether, where a heart sym­bol is placed on healthy food and drinks, and has or­gan­ised run­ning com­pe­ti­tions and health aware­ness days.

The gov­ern­ment is also crack­ing down on to­bacco sales and lim­it­ing ac­cess to flavoured cig­a­rettes.

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