Feb 20, 2018 Last Updated 5:27 AM, Feb 19, 2018

Pacific’s health crisis

Non communicable diseases is prevalent in the Pacific that it has become a crisis- a matter which authorities need to address urgently. However talking about it to an audience doesn’t necessarily make one ‘all ears’ about it. In fact, the Pacific tops the ten countries in the world for overweight and obesity.

Pacific Island Forum leaders acknowledge that ‘NCDs already undermine social and economic development in the Pacific, and are financially unsustainable. NCDs impose increasingly large, yet often preventable financial costs on national budgets and the economy more broadly.

While “lifestyle choices” have often been regarded as the leading cause, Pacific Community Director General Colin Tukuitonga said calling them lifestyle diseases was wrong. He said it implied that people had a choice when, in fact, many Pacific people and especially children were “victims of their circumstances.”

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I cheated death twice

ASENA Senimoli survived two death experiences- her heart beat stopped, she felt the pain, slowly slipped away and was ready to go. But God saved her life those two times for a higher purpose.

Three years later, breast cancer survivor Senimoli looks back on life’s journey that has so far been truly interesting, blessed and fulfilling. In February 2009, Senimoli discovered a lump on her left breast. She showed no fear and visited a private consultant at Diyaz Health Centre for a check-up.

To her surprise, the doctor explained the lump was suspicious and probably cancerous. As a student of the Pacific Theological College pursuing a Bachelor Degree in Divinity, she did not want to be told she had cancer. But in 2010, her life changed when the doctors told her she only had five years to live. During that time, her hair was falling and her body hot. Senimoli needed was ice water to cool off. She was restless and the pain was overwhelming. 

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THEFIJIANS could expect an upgrade to their medical health services, in light of the new private hospital partnership between the MIOT International arm, one of India’s top hospitals and the BSP Life.

Under this new partnership, the Suva Private Hospital is now under a new management, with a new entity - Oceania Hospitals Proprietor Limited through MIOT (Madras Institute of Orthopedics and Traumatology) owning 30 per cent in the partnership, with BSP Life, who will continue to own 70 per cent.

The hype is generally around access to upgraded and specialised services and equipment, and specialised doctors in the medical field, that may have been lacking in Fiji. According to MIOT Pacific’s new medical director, Dr Ganesh Prasad (originally from India), said cardiac and gastrointestinal could be the key focus areas.

A pilot study is being run in order to determine the sort of patients that get drained into the hospital, and what sort of services they are after. “The lackness of those areas we would really like to try to fill in,” he said. “May be cardiac, may be gastrointestinal, may be lung related, intestine, kidney related – are some areas we’ll probably be looking at – depending on what is lacking.”

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Our people at risk

OUR Pacific finds itself in an emergency and how we choose to deal with it right now will determine our future. Non-communicable diseases – primarily heart disease, cancers, chronic lung diseases and diabetes - are killing our people; more than any other cause or ailment. We have among the highest prevalence of NCDs and NCD risk factors in the world. In fact these diseases are responsible for six to eight of every 10 recorded deaths in the Pacific. We are also the epicenter of obesity.

Seven Pacific island nations rank among the top 10 globally. As a medical doctor it is heartbreaking to see our small island nations feature prominently on these global top ten lists. These largely preventable and manageable diseases are striking down our youth and our productive populations. As the Director-General of the Pacific Community (SPC), the region’s principal scientific and technical organisation, I recognise that this is more than a health crisis.

We are facing a development crisis and while this emergency calls for quick and decisive action it cannot be left to our doctors and health officials alone to address. We affect our environment and our environment affects us. This is a sentiment we Pacific Islanders understand well as our history and culture are deeply entwined with the land we come from. In her opening speech at the inaugural Pacific NCD Summit in Tonga organised by the Government of Tonga and the Pacific Community (SPC) with support from key development partners, the United Nations Development Programme Administrator and former New Zealand Prime Minister, Helen Clark, articulated our region’s predicament quite well by stating that NCDs and the socio-economic environment of a country are related.

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Diabetes hits home hard

FELITI Hoeft, 54, comes from the village Tofoa in Tongatapu. Before getting diagnosed with diabetes, he was a hard working man, gainfully employed operating heavy earth moving machines. Today, both his feet are gone - amputated.

The first amputation took place in 2000, the same year his diabetes was diagnosed. Feliti admits he never imagined the disease would progress this far and so he never took the doctor’s advice seriously. In those initial days after the disease was diagnosed, he continued to be casual about both his eating habits, nor would he take the medicine seriously. “I did not really know what to avoid eating. Whatever was offered I would not refuse.

That meant not cutting back on a carbs-heavy diet of root crops such as the cassava, tapioca and the dalo. Now, I am on greens and only a very limited proportion of the carbs. But it is already too late” he says with a half-resigned look.

Feliti concedes eating right is a major part of the battle won. “Wrong diet was my enemy number one. I was one of those who thought I could go on eating almost everything because I was taking medicine regularly but clearly this was a wrong approach. And I paid dearly for my wrong approach”.

“Everything is at a stop now. Once I am out of the hospital, I will reassess if I can work but with both my legs affected, I wonder if I can work in the way I used to before.”

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