Pacific struggling in battle against NCDs
The Pacific Community (SPC) says a new multi-country, multi-sectoral approach is needed to try and rein in the region's non-communicable disease crisis.
The Pacific Community (SPC) says a new multi- country, multi-sectoral approach is needed to try and rein in the region's non-communicable disease crisis.
Seventy five percent of all deaths in the Pacific are NCD related and this has even been linked to the decline in life expectancy in some countries.
The Director General of the SPC says countries are not doing enough to combat the epidemic.
Colin Tukuitonga told Koroi Hawkins he hoped a Pacific summit to be held in Tonga next month would strengthen the regional response to non-communicable diseases.
COLIN TUKUITONGA: We have not achieved the kind of improvements that we need. In other words diabetes prevalence continues to go up and in many small islands at least half the population have diabetes or pre-diabetes. Obesity rates remain high, smoking rates continue to be climbing and so we are not making the kind of impact that we need to make. Having said that there is isolated improvements. Samoa for example has managed through legislation, education and taxation to reduce smoking in that country. But these are very isolated achievements and overall it is disappointing. Meantime the risk factors and the heart disease and diabetes continue to climb in pretty much all of the island countries.
KOROI HAWKINS: So is it a case of not knowing what to do to combat NCDs or not doing what is needed to combat NCDs?
CT: It is probably a combination of both to be honest, there are very few things that we know, with good evidence that it works. For example, increasing taxes we know reduces consumption of whether its tobacco or soft-drinks. But overall there is much that we don't know so we are doing and awful lot of activities for which the evidence is not fantastic. But even so there are some things that we do know works but we are not applying them. For example on the taxation for, increased taxes for tobacco for example, not all the countries are implementing that strategy even though we do know it is effective. So it is a combination of both things.
KH: Now bringing everyone together I understand there will be leaders ministers, officials and global development agencies. Bringing them together what is the idea, what is it that you are hoping comes out of this?
CT: Well as with most of these things you need a certain range of your stars to be aligned. By that I mean you need political commitment in a serious way to act on what we know needs to be done. We need to get the development partners participating because by and large they make decisions on funding and resource allocation for these activities. We need the ministers of health who also make decisions on priorities and resource allocation within their countries. We need technical people who know about evidence of what works and what doesn't work. Whether it is taxation or communication, we need NGO involvement because they work often in a very effective way with communities on certain issues. So that is really the intention.
KH: And we are talking about, like we often talk about non-communicable diseases, it is accepted across the stakeholders and partners as a serious problem, but do you think the general population of the Pacific understands the gravity of the situation? I am just looking at some of your figures here, seventy five percent of deaths are related to NCDs and even the life expectancy is declining in some Pacific countries because of NCDs.
CT: Well I think it is fair to say that there is a better awareness now overall and in most places people will know or will be affected in some way or know somebody who has diabetes or heart disease. So I imagine there is a general level of awareness of these things but of course the problem now is that a big body size or a certain Western orientated diet have become quite normal for people and so most people would think that being overweight and obese is actually a normal state to be in. Or even if they are aware that it leads to health problems in later life. There is a sort of fatalistic attitude towards it all, heavily influenced by Christian beliefs so it is complicated. I think there is a general awareness but overall the issues are complex and people will often rationalise what they do and say because of their certain beliefs about body-size and health and so on.
The Pacific summit to strengthen response to the non-communicable diseases crisis will be held in the Kingdom of Tonga from 20-22 June 2016.
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