Pacific NCD crisis: urgent action needed now

Islands Business:

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

NADI, Fiji ---- Pacific Directors of Health are meeting this week to consider critical actions to respond to the non-communicable disease (NCD) crisis in the Pacific.

The topic will be one of a number of issues discussed at the second Pacific Directors of Health meeting, which is being convened by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and regional partners in Nadi, Fiji from 29 to 30April 2014.

NCDs such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer account for about 70% of all deaths in the Pacific region, yet many are preventable.

Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs) have some of the highest rates of diabetes in the world, with diabetes prevalence in many PICTs more than double the world average.

“The 10 countries in the world with the highest overweight and obesity rates are in the Pacific, as are almost all the 10 countries with the highest prevalence of diabetes in the world, and these are major drivers of NCDs. The region is struggling to cope with the burden on individuals, families, communities, health systems and Pacific economies and development more broadly,” said Dr Paula Vivili, Deputy Director at SPC’s Public Health Division.

“Urgent action needs to be taken now. The good news is that there are proven, affordable and cost-effective strategies available.” said Dr Vivili.

SPC, the World Bank, World Health Organisation and the Pacific Islands Forum have been working with the governments of Australia and New Zealand to develop a detailed NCD Roadmap Report on a multi-sectoral country and regional response to the NCD Crisis in the Pacific, for consideration at the joint Forum Economic and Pacific Health Ministers Meeting in July 2014.

“Four key strategies include strengthening tobacco control, addressing and better regulating food and drink products linked to NCDs, improving efficiency by reallocating existing health resources to targeted primary and secondary prevention and treatment of heart disease and diabetes, and strengthening research and evidence for better planning,” said Dr Vivili.

The NCD Roadmap Report identifies 32 other multi-sectoral activities that Pacific governments could choose to adopt in their response to NCDs. These involve interventions from a range of ministries including the prime ministers’ office as well as ministries of agriculture, education, health and trade.

Opened by the Fijian Minister for Health Dr Neil Sharma, the regional meeting provides the platform for the Pacific Health Ministers meeting which will be held next year.

In opening the meeting, Dr Sharma said it was high time that the Pacific became “serious in addressing health issues mainly non – communicable diseases which is the single highest killer in the region.”

“Your call to this important forum is to set the platform for ministers on a mere open level playing field in the future Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) Ministers Meeting 2015,” he said.

“Take recognition that the unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) era is not left out of the post 2015 development agenda.”

Health directors, chief executive officers and permanent secretaries attending the meet will also review the required architecture for health and will also establish a terms of reference.

The senior officials will also be reporting to their respective economic/trade ministers in preparation to the SIDS meeting in July this year.

“Your ability to negotiate policy and technical support will remain paramount if you are able to make a difference on an escalating health agenda,” Dr Sharma added.

“Consider youth issues of substance abuse, alcohol, cigarette exposure and increasing mental issues and motor vehicle accidents. All these variables increase our individual health budget and already far too many of us have a high global index on aid dependency.”

The two day meeting concludes today.

Read story: Islands Business

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