Can the Pacific address its non-communicable diseases crisis?
More than just policy change needed to address the fact that up to 75% of deaths in the Pacific Islands region are due to non communicable diseases, such as diabetes and heart diseases.
The Pacific has been told that up to 75 percent of deaths in the region are due to non communicable diseases, such as diabetes and heart diseases.
The first regional conference to try and do something about this is underway in Tonga's capital, Nuku'alofa.
The event, attended by leaders and partners from around 14 different countries, is addressing the Non-Communicable Diseases crisis in the region.
Indira Stewart has more.
Pacific Countries are among the top ten obese countries in the world, with Palau having the highest prevalence at 80 per cent of its adult population. Helen Clark, the head of the United Nations Development Programme, gave the keynote address and called those statistics distressing. But she believes Pacific governments can beat the NCD crisis.
HELEN CLARK: My purpose in coming down to the NCD Summit in Tonga was to say this can be done. But it needs very determined action and communities have to be empowered and involved.
The 3-day summit will feature an entire day focussing on diabetes alone. Paula Vivili, the public health director of the Pacific regional body the Pacific Community, is dismissing figures in the report which showed Tonga as having the highest prevalence of adult diabetes. But he does agree it is a significant issue in the region.
PAULA VIVILI: When you discuss NCD's, for many of the people, diabetes is what they see with the amputees, with the kidney failure, with the people going blind. And so the whole idea of putting diabetes at the centre of the summit is really to look at opportunities to address diabetes a little bit better. While Tonga would not agree with the figures quoted in the report, it is still a significant problem for all Pacific Islanders.
A regional NCD Roadmap was established in 2014 to help Pacific governments tackle the problem. But the Pacific Community's Director General, Colin Tukuitonga, says progress has been poor and there has been little change across the region.
COLIN TUKUITONGA: Some countries have done a good job but it's not done across the region, and that's the problem. And one of the weaknesses in this of course is that the tobacco industry would still target the countries that don't have effective interaction. So whilst it's good that we have a roadmap, it's not being applied consistently and uniformly across the region.
He says policy changes need to go further than just the health department.
COLIN TUKUITONGA: I don't think it's an issue on health policies, if anything it's an issue on food policies, on trade, opportunities for exercise and more physical activity, promotion of sport - all of those things that are actually outside of the health sector. And that's the issue, because most people see this as a health issue when it is not.
Helen Clark says the government's role is critical, but effective implementation means going further than just passing laws.
HELEN CLARK: This is very complex and you have to involve communities. You have to involve the religious leaders. You have to involve the local groups which relate to the needs of local people. So it's more than government. Governments need to do the right things but communities have to be engaged and empowered. If we can get this big partnership, I'm confident the Pacific can beat these diseases back.
The conference follows the release of the global nutrition report which also put Pacific countries at the top of malnutrition statistics and showed most of the region will fail to reach global nutrition targets. It attributed the malnutrition to poor quality diets, not a lack of food.
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