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Chronic Diseases Killing Afro-Caribbeans

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By Bert Wilkinson
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

Caribbean trade bloc governments have been so worried about the stark increase in chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension among citizens that they have twice organized special summits to address the issue and even pushed the United Nations into holding a high-level meeting to find ways of reducing these numbers.

In the past week, a respected Caribbean academic has sought to directly link what he calls the “epidemic” of chronic, non-communicable diseases in the Afro-Caribbean community to the history of violently removing Africans from the continent to work as slaves in the Caribbean and Americas.

The result, says Hilary Beckles, principal and pro vice chancellor of the University of the West Indies’ Barbados campus, is that Blacks are accounting for a disproportionate level of regional citizens affected with all forms of diabetes and elevated blood pressure on a daily basis.

Speaking at a weekend forum to ramp up governmental support for reparations for Africans who are still suffering from the results of the cruel and inhuman Transatlantic Slave Trade, Beckles said that studies now show that up to 60 percent of Afro-Caribbean citizens aged 60 and over are now affected by these two diseases, and much of it has to do with slavery.

“Over 300 years, every day you are eating salted fish or salted pork. You are overworked and underfed, you are malnourished and overworked, and your body reacts to this. So now we have a major economic crisis on our hands relating to chronic diseases. Something has happened in the Caribbean Black community that has led to this explosion of such chronic diseases.”

He even argued that Africans who were accustomed to too a much of a different diet on the continent before slavery found it difficult to metabolize sugars and salts in amounts they absorbed while eating plantation food during slavery, hence their frightening health status today.

But even as Beckles was speaking, Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of neighboring St. Vincent, was making a spirited case for the British in particular to own up to the horrors of the slave trade as he called on regional governments to establish a committee to demand reparation payments from London.

Mentioning that the average lifespan for a Vincentian national is 74, 67-year-old Gonsalves went on to say, “I have seven more years to talk like this—with the help of Almighty God—and to demand a proper historical recompense for genocide, for the land, for African slavery and for us to reclaim our history. I want to say that the quantification of what we are owed as reparations, that quantification has to be complete with the appropriate technical work. Great homes in England—lord this and lord that—were financed by the compensation money for the slaves.

So when I talk like this, you have some people saying, ‘Ralph is against the British.’ I have nothing against the British. I have nothing but admiration for the British and their achievements, but there are some things for which we must take account.”

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