Region looks to turn tide on health crisis
Samoa and Pacific Island countries at the inaugural Pacific Non-Communicable Diseases (N.C.D) Summit have expressed their support for a Pacific funding mechanism to better balance responses to the mammoth burden of N.C.Ds in the region.
In this regard, the Pacific Island countries and territories at the summit have agreed to explore options to establish greater synergies between funding sources.
A commitment was also made regarding the introduction of national legislation to ensure all Pacific Island countries and territories meet or exceed the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control taxation target and help achieve a Tobacco Free Pacific by 2025.
These are some of 17 key statements addressed in the adopted outcomes document of the high-level Pacific N.C.D Summit in Nuku’alofa, Tonga, which will be presented for consideration at the Pacific Ministers of Health meeting in Cook Islands next year.
“Whatever we decide to do in terms of addressing N.C.Ds, funding is a very crucial factor,” Cook Islands Minister of Health, Justice and Parliamentary Services, Nandi Glassie, said.
“Taxation on tobacco, sugary drinks and alcohol, for example, is one area, and in fact it’s being seen as a positive move so that each country can develop their own form of funding. But from the outset, this is not enough so we’re looking for more assistance from our key development partners.”
The government of Tonga and the Pacific Community (S.P.C) hosted the three-day summit (20 to 22 June) with support from the Australian aid programme, New Zealand Aid Programme, Government of the United States, World Bank, World Diabetes Foundation (W.D.F), World Health Organization (W.H.O) and the United Nations Development Programme (U.N.D.P).
N.C.Ds – mainly heart disease, cancers, lung disease and diabetes – account for up to 75% of recorded deaths in the Pacific.
Common themes expressed throughout the high-level discussions, and reflected in the outcomes statement, were the importance of strong leadership, government stability, multi-sectoral collaboration and use of existing traditional governance structures to sustain efforts to reduce N.C.Ds.
U.N.D.P Administrator Helen Clark commended the regional N.C.D Roadmap for recognizing the importance of action across all sectors for N.C.Ds.
“I firmly believe that the 2030 Agenda can be a springboard for the implementation of the Roadmap. The interconnected nature of the Agenda’s 17 goals and 169 targets all but demands national responses which build synergies across sectors,” Ms. Clark said.
“This Summit is an important opportunity for the Pacific to redouble commitments to addressing the N.C.D crisis without delay, to build resilience to it, and to be a pathfinder for how we can build the partnerships across government, the UN, Civil society, and the private sector to be respond to N.C.Ds as well as other global challenges requiring urgent and collective action,” she added.
More than 120 high-level delegates took part, representing Pacific Island governments and international development partners, including ministers of health from some 14 Pacific countries.
“Knowing what we want to achieve and setting a timeline to it and targets is very important, and I think that’s going to be one of the critical suggestions that has come out from this summit,” Fiji’s Minister of Health, Jone Usamate, said.
As a testament to the urgent need to effectively tackle the N.C.D crisis in the Pacific, the United States sent two high-level speakers, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Dr Thomas E. Novotny, and Director of Sports Initiatives and Digital Communications for President Obama’s Council on Fitness Sports and Nutrition, Ebony Andrews.
“The Pacific N.C.D Summit concluded with strong recommendations to take on the social determinants of non-communicable diseases and the main risk factors for these diseases such as tobacco, consumption of high-fat, salty and high sugared food, lack of exercise and alcohol abuse,” Dr. Novotny commented.
The summit’s final day was entirely dedicated to shining a spotlight on diabetes in the Pacific.
In 2015, eight of the top ten countries and territories identified as having the highest diabetes prevalence in the world were from the Pacific.
The International Diabetes Federation estimates that economic burden of diabetes alone in Australia amounts to A$14.6 billion each year with figures expected to reach A$30 billion by 2025.
“I commend Pacific leaders for being at the forefront of the NCD agenda. We now need to ensure that we take the necessary steps to urgently and strongly combat N.C.Ds because we all agree that our current efforts are not enough,” the Pacific Community Director-General, Dr. Colin Tukuitonga, said.
“This summit has enabled Pacific Islands countries and territories to share ideas, experiences, prioritise response efforts and further develop opportunities for regional collaboration to overcome this crisis,” Dr. Tukuitonga said.
Participants at the Summit acknowledged the challenge of tackling N.C.Ds is far from over and effective results can only be achieved with the commitment of all sectors of society, including the media, working together.
“The media needs to ask itself how responsible it is being in holding legislators responsible in the fight against N.C.Ds but also how responsible have they been in helping to fight this fight,” Pacific Islands Business Publisher and veteran journalist, Netani Rika said.
“We need to tell the stories of who it affects; the mothers, the fathers, families left without breadwinners. These stories need to be told to wake people up. If we don’t do it, people won’t pay attention. The media shares the responsibility of building a healthier societies.”
Additionally, Dr. Novotny announced that the US government will sponsor a Pacific-wide exchange programme focused on obesity, nutrition, and N.C.Ds later this year.
The exchange will be part of the U.S. State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Programme (IVLP), and it will send participants on a 10-day visit to the US to learn effective ways of encouraging NCD prevention among youth.