DEAR EDITOR, Radio New Zealand International broadcasts to the Pacific are at the forefront of relating information on the threat of non-communicable diseases and the measure to be taken by embracing lifestyle and dietary habits to ward of diseases.
“In Samoa (quote) the manager of the Ministry of Health’s Renal Division, Christina Poliai, said the numbers seeking dialysis have escalated in the 12 years since dialysis facilities were first available in Samoa.
“She said they were up from six in 2005 to 103 now, which has required an additional shift.
“Ms Poliai said the numbers needing dialysis could still climb substantially but she hopes the work that has gone into educating people about how to combat NCDs starts to bear fruit.
“So hopefully in the next five years we will start to see the effect of that, but at the moment it is just that people are starting to change their lifestyles, especially with their eating habits, exercising, eating the right kind of food, all those measures that can try and reduce the incidence of NCDs and especially kidney disease.”
In the last few days, a volunteer doctor working in remote parts of the Pacific says there’s a big need for education about a good diet to combat diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure.
Derek Allen has spent the past 30 years working in remote parts of the world where professional health care is lacking.
He is working for two months in Lamap on the Vanuatu island of Malekula providing medical care alongside nurses at the small local hospital.
Dr Allen, who is from New Zealand, said he was seeing a variety of problems and increasingly those caused by diets too rich in carbohydrates from root crops and white rice and lacking in protein and vegetables.
According to a recent report by Jane Parry, and referring to WHO surveys, Pacific islanders pay a heavy price for abandoning traditional diet
Replacing traditional foods with imported, processed food has contributed to the high prevalence of obesity and related health problems in the Pacific islands.
“Scattered across the Pacific Ocean are thousands of islands which make up three regions known as Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. Beyond the image of white sandy beaches and carefree lifestyles, the Pacific islands are facing serious health problems, the prime culprit being imported foods.
“About 40% of the Pacific island region’s population of 9.7 million has been diagnosed with a no communicable disease, notably cardiovascular disease, diabetes and hypertension. These diseases account for three quarters of all deaths across the Pacific archipelago and 40–60% of total health-care expenditure, according to a meeting on obesity prevention and control strategies in the Pacific held in Samoa in September 2000
“People in the Pacific islands may know what constitutes healthy eating but, as in many parts of the world, governments struggle to change people’s behaviour. In eight countries, less than 20% of people surveyed reported eating the recommended five or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day. The often calorie-rich and nutrient-poor imported foods have a stronger appeal.
“Historically, food was imported from Australia and New Zealand, but now it comes from much further afield: China, Malaysia and the Philippines. Nutrition labels are not only inconsistent but often not in English, the common language spoken in most Pacific island countries. Mandating clear, consistent labelling is crucial, says Bell. “The simpler, the better. Simple nutrition signposts can be useful and should be encouraged, and ingredient labels are really important for monitoring food safety and quality.”
In the Solomon Islands today there are over 400 amputees still awaiting prosthetic limbs after succumbing to mainly diabetes and having had a leg removed.
The workshop at the National Referral Hospital in Honiara (NRH) once used to manufacture and custom fit patients with prosthetics has collapsed due to white and termite infestation and there is no money to rebuild the workshop.
There are some in the Solomon Islands that believe the money the Solomon Islands receives annually from Taiwan could be better targeted to helping the MOHMS with projects such as getting the broken down 317 or so rural health clinics repaired or refurbished and providing a new and fully equipped workshop at the NRH to help the limbless.
To be fair, Taiwan does aid the Solomon Islands quite a lot in the medical area but perhaps more could still be done to silence the critics who see money allocated to the SIG as the ‘Discretionary Fund’ and ‘Constituency Development’ money better allocated, utilized and effectively audited.