Non-communicable disease in regional conference focus

Addressing health issues, particularly the growing challenge posed by non-communicable diseases such as the Zika Virus, is the top agenda of a meeting of more than 20 regional health leaders in French Polynesia.

The 13th Pacific Health Ministers Conference is taking place in Tahiti this week.

In his remarks before exiting the role of Director General of the Pacific Community after a six-year term, Colin Tukuitonga said there is still much to be done despite the progress the region has made in its health systems. 

“The Pacific today is a different place to what it was 25 years ago and our region faces a multitude of challenges," he said. 

“Climate change and its impact including the frequency of natural disasters have increased with significant impact on our people and fragile economies. 

“The non-communicable disease crisis continues to unfold across the Pacific and is compounded by the burden of communicable diseases including continuing outbreaks of dengue, measles, typhoid and the emergence of diseases such as Zika and Chikungunya. 

“Health systems in Pacific countries are struggling to cope with the demand its populations are placing on them. Static or decreasing government funding is common and there is increasing reliance on development partner funding for operational costs. 

“And the exodus of skilled health care professionals continues; under resourced health information systems is the norm, medical consumable and drug procurement challenges and the high cost of maintenance and repair of medical equipment and health infrastructure place added pressure on limited resources.”

Opening the conference, which also touched on government spending on healthcare, the President of French Polynesia, Edouard Fritch commented on disparate standards of public health policy between the islands: "The people of French Polynesia benefit from universal health coverage under a Social Healthcare System.

"Almost the entire population of our country, more than 98.5 per cent, are covered under this system".

Climate change was also high on the agenda. 

With the S.P.C. recently being accredited to the Green Climate Fund (G.C.F.), Mr. Tukuitonga said, they are in discussions with a few countries to identify suitable intervention and support. 

“The G.C.F. is keen to have projects in health as increased resilience of health and wellbeing is one of the key adaptation result areas of G.C.F.”

Mr. Tukuitonga said the region needs a very cohesive mechanism to adequately address climate change and health. 

“We need more Pacific people in our regional and international organisations," he said.

"We often hear that organisations shy away from recruiting Pacific people because they do not want to take away people from the countries. The reality is, some good people choose to stay and some good people choose to leave. 

“We might as well benefit the countries by getting some of these good people to help us serve the countries better. After all regional and international organisations working in Health should all be seen as extensions of the human resources available in country.”

He also called on stronger collaborations ahead of signing a revised agreement with the World Health Organisation to re-energise the working relationship between the two organisations.

The meeting also discusses additional initiatives including the Pacific Ending Childhood Obesity, the Pacific Legislative Framework as well as cancer.

Samoa's Minister for Health Faimalotoa Kika Stowers was among the Health Ministers and other participants, who took the time to acknowledge the contribution made by Mr. Tukuitonga in the region. 

The agenda on this year’s meeting includes universal health coverage (covering primary care reforms, health information systems and health human resources); climate change and health; Pacific health security; non-communicable diseases; immunisation and vaccine preventable diseases; and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (W.A.S.H.).

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