Huge task ahead: Chief Medical Officer Cheryl Peek-Ball, centre. *Photo by Raymond Hainey
Huge task ahead: Chief Medical Officer Cheryl Peek-Ball, centre. *Photo by Raymond Hainey

One of the biggest surveys ever made of the health of Bermuda is to take place this fall, the Bermuda Sun can reveal.

The new survey will not only include a questionnaire, but physical exams, including blood tests and biological measurements to ensure accuracy.

New Chief Medical Officer Dr Cheryl Peek-Ball said the survey of 3,000 people will help shape the future of healthcare on the island for years to come.

And Dr Peek-Ball added the health department was bracing itself for even higher figures for some major health issues as a result — with diabetes figures set to rise from its current level of 11 per cent of the population.

She said: “It’s a mammoth task — I certainly haven’t heard of too many surveys of this size.”

Dr Peek-Ball added: “Our most significant chronic diseases would be diabetes and heart disease. We may not be very well nourished, but we are very well fed and we have sedentary tendencies.

“Infectious disease and communicable disease, we have licked that. What we have yet to even begin to address are the lifestyle issues that lead to chronic non-communicable diseases. 

“This would be obesity, which is perhaps the central problem. If we were to eliminate that, we would be hitting the root of other diseases like diabetes, hypertension and the risk of stroke.”

Dr Peek-Ball said: “At the moment the big problems, the looming threats, are the unsustainable costs of health care.

“That’s like a state of emergency in that we cannot sustain the cost of keeping ourselves insured against health problems.

“On the one hand, we are dealing with a change in demographics — an ageing population and managing and caring from a practical and economic standpoint the end of life and how we make that time of life a dignified and positive one.

“On the other, we have the problem of chronic non-communicable diseases which are affecting young and middle-aged people.”

And she warned the combination was a double whammy for healthcare — as an increasing elderly population needed more resources, while the pool of people available to pay the taxes needed was shrinking due to incapacity.

Dr Peek-Ball said: “That can be very expensive in terms of loss of function and the impact on society because we don’t have the young people fit to work.”

Dr Peek-Ball added another priority for the Government health watchdog was ensuring safe childbirth and early years care.

She said: “At the forefront of my awareness is ensuring that there is safe motherhood and that childbirth is safe and that young children are getting the care that they need.”

Dr Peek-Ball added: “There is also a lot of concern about the quality of our healthcare professionals — that they are trained to the highest standards and that people are cared for by well-trained professionals.”

The survey will be carried out to exacting World Health Organisation (WHO) standards, which have been used in many countries, with help from experts from the Caribbean Public Health Agency and the University of the West Indies. The Bermuda Hospitals Board, Bermuda Diabetes Association and Bermuda Heart Foundation have also pitched in to help with the task.

And a team of at least 30 interviewers will soon be recruited and trained to carry out the paper part of the huge survey.

Dr Peek-Ball added: “It’s basically helped countries to cut the burden of their chronic disease risk factors on the health system.

“We are taking the opportunity to collaborate with other organisations who are worried about the same things — chronic disease and its impact on Bermuda.”

Dr Peek-Ball said: “I don’t expect to be surprised by the results — I expect to have reinforced our impression that our 11-per-cent diabetes rate will probably be significantly more than that and that the risk factors will be alarmingly high.

She added that Bermuda — which largely has the same health problems as the rest of the developed world — had formerly used information from other countries. 

But she said: “It’s important to get local data for risk assessment — we have relied on international studies in the past.” n