Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) threaten the very future of small Pacific Island countries and territories and must be decisively addressed as a development crisis in order to nurture a healthy environment that enables healthy lifestyle choices.
This is according to the Pacific Community’s (SPC) Director-General, Dr Colin Tukuitonga.
Dr Tukuitonga made these comments in his keynote address today on Sustainable Development Challenges in the Pacific at the 15th World Congress on Public Health, currently underway in Melbourne, Australia.
NCDs – mainly heart disease, cancers, chronic lung diseases and diabetes – are the leading cause of death in the Pacific region, accounting for up to 75 per cent of mortalities in most Pacific Island countries and territories.
These largely preventable and manageable diseases also account for a high proportion of premature deaths in the Pacific.
“Premature death, disability and reduced productivity from NCDs pose a heavy burden on our families and communities but in addition they are creating a socio-economic crisis that immensely challenges our collective vision for Healthy Islands in the Pacific and the achievement of our Sustainable Development Goals,” Dr Tukuitonga said.
Pacific Island countries rank among the top 10 countries with the highest prevalence of diabetes in the world for example and as a result in some Pacific Island countries, diabetes care consumes approximately 20 per cent of annual government health care expenditure, in comparison to the global 12 per cent average.
“Pacific leaders are taking proactive measures to addressing NCDs as demonstrated with the approval Pacific NCD Roadmap in 2014 which has resulted in some progress. Urgent action is critical and SPC continues to support the efforts of its Pacific members across many sectors in order to reverse this crisis,” he added.
During the weeklong congress, Dr Tukuitonga will also join other internationally recognised public health leaders, politicians, and experts for World Leadership Dialogues, a series of moderated public debates that tackle key issues related to public health.
Among key issues for debate are tobacco control, integrating ecological determinants into public health practice and ending childhood obesity in one generation.
“Pacific Island countries and territories rank among the top 12 globally with the highest prevalence of adult obesity and there is no doubt childhood obesity is a major concern for the region, compounding the already overwhelming NCD crisis,” said Dr Tukuitonga, who served as a commissioner for the World Health Organisation (WHO) global Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity from 2014 to 2016.
“At the end of the day, Pacific Island governments need to be accountable to each other to ensure that they deliver on their commitments outlined in the Pacific NCD Roadmap. On the same note, investment by donors and development partners to assist in this fight against NCDs including childhood obesity needs to adequately reflect the mammoth burden at hand,” he said.
The World Congress on Public Health, hosted by the World Federation of Public Health Associations, serves as an international forum for the exchange of knowledge and experiences on key public health issues, contributing towards protecting and promoting public health at a national and global level.
The final day of the congress coincides with World Health Day on 7 April.