SPC: Addresses NCD Epidemic in the Pacific

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Suva, Fiji – “If we tackle non communicable diseases (NCDs), we tackle about three quarters of the Pacific’s health problems.”

Dr Josaia Samuela, Manager of the Health Advancement Unit, Public Health Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, (SPC) said that with up to 75% of all deaths in Pacific Island countries and territories attributable to the rapid increase in NCDs over the past decade, the Pacific Ministers of Health meeting in Honiara, mid-2011, acknowledged the need for “urgent action to the crisis.”

“The Health Ministers agreed that the Pacific region needs a whole-of-government and a whole-of-society approach to this health and development crisis,” said Dr Samuela. “The legislators and policy makers must be actively involved.”  

[Small Grant project teaching families of diabetic patients how to grow a vegetable garden in Wallis]

Dr Samuela said that, in fact, since 2008, the Public Health Division of SPC, along with their major partner the World Health Organisation (WHO), has been working with SPC’s member states on a healthy Pacific lifestyle programme. called 2-1-22 . That is, two agencies SPC and WHO, delivering one regional NCD strategic framework to 22 countries and territories.

“To assist the Pacific Island countries and territories establish comprehensive, sustainable initiatives to combat NCDs, the AusAID/NZAID-funded programme, initiated by SPC and WHO, not only focused on prevention, health promotion and behaviour changes, particularly in relation to smoking, nutrition, alcohol and physical activity, but also supported the countries in the development and implementation of  national NCD Plans.

“This included worked with countries on legislation and policies, and providing technical assistance for training on best practices in NCD prevention and control.

“In addressing NCDs, the emphasis is on tackling the social determinants of health and the need for a cross- sector approach to implementing activities and interventions. For example, recommending walking as a form of exercise is counter-productive if there is nowhere safe to walk, and pedestrians are in danger of being run over by a vehicle.

“Healthy nutrition is a health issue, but it is also concerns all agriculture ministries. Can we expect people to eat the recommended amount of fresh fruit and vegetables if their land cannot produce these?”

“Another area of concern is whether we are educating our young people to be active for a healthy lifestyle, or do we place an over-emphasis on success in competitions as the only reason to be involved in a sporting activity? We need to work together with our education ministries and sports bodies on this.”

“In the area of tobacco and the abuse of alcohol, to what extent can we engage people who have influence upon their communities, whether this be faith-based, cultural, or social?

Dr Samuela said that part of the 2-1-22-programme support has included “consultation on taxation and legislation, for example on advertising, marketing, sales, and licensing. All these strategies engage multiple stakeholders or sectors such as trade, finance, and businesses, and provide opportunities to engage non-health sectors in creating and enabling supportive environments for NCD prevention and health promotion. ”

Dr Samuela said that for such collaborations to work, plans need to be kept relatively simple, targeting key priorities, as complicated plans may become unworkable.

Although the 2-1-22 programme ends in June this year, Dr Samuela said that SPC’s ongoing role in tackling the NCD epidemic includes advocacy and raising awareness, and providing technical expertise, where requested by the countries.

“The ongoing support from SPC to island countries on their NCD efforts will involve the Public Health Division working with other Divisions in SPC ; the Land Resources Division (LRD), Applied Geoscience and Technology (SOPAC), the Economic Development Division, and the Regional Media Centre, for example, to deliver services  in a more holistic and effective manner,” concluded Dr Samuela.