May 21, 2019 Last Updated 5:09 AM, May 21, 2019

Women and NCDs

How do we reverse the crisis

OUR region is in crisis mode – a noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) crisis to be exact. Regional data shows that about 75 per cent of all adult deaths are due to NCDs, and persons who are considered economically active, are becoming mere statistics. Pacific leaders have called for “an urgent and comprehensive response” to effectively address this epidemic but what is really needed is a response to the following question: ‘What meaningful contribution can women play in effectively addressing this NCDs crisis?’ Is there a link between NCDs and women?

Women’s bodies experience NCDs differently than men, but this is also impacted by gendered social, economic and political conditions. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), NCDs, particularly cardiovascular diseases and cancers are the leading killers amongst older women . Despite a country’s level of economic development, no country is immune to the detrimental effects of NCDs on its population.

Globally, NCDs are the leading cause of death in women causing 18 million deaths per year . The inextricable link between health and development issues cannot be denied as NCDs directly or indirectly impact women and their families in developing countries, notably in their most productive years. The already excessive costs on our fragile healthcare system, along with lost productivity in the workforce, continue to rise.

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Battle royale

King heads Tongan fightback

FOOD is central to every Tongan function – from birth to death. But over-eating and the importation of cheap, fatty meat has led to Tonga being the most obese country in the world. Recent research shows that 4 per cent of the population could have Type 2 Diabetes and life expectancy is falling.

Tonga is not alone, however, and doctors say Pacific island nations and associated states make up the top seven on a 2007 list of fattest countries. In all these cases, more than 70 per cent of citizens age 15 and over have an unhealthy weight. Until the 1960s the Tongan diet consisted of fish, root vegetables and coconuts, with pork being a delicacy reserved for special occasions.

With increased travel in the 1970s, Tongans moved to New Zealand and the United States. Shortly after this, offcuts of meat began arriving in the kingdom including turkey tails from the US and mutton flaps from New Zealand. They were seen as status symbols. People with the ability to buy this fatty food showed that they were affluent or related to people who lived overseas.

Gradually the consumption of this food began to have a telling effect on the population. Further north, turkey tails have been a problem in Samoa which also has a large off-shore community in New Zealand and the United States.

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Tax to turn tide

TAXES and tariffs may be the Pacific’s best bet in fighting the growing non communicable disease epidemic. Samoa has introduced tariffs of up to 300 per cent on fatty meat imports and could soon place similar restrictive fees on imported fizzy drinks in an effort to reduce its health bills.

Other countries have started to raise taxes on cigarettes and alcohol – two of the major contributors to diabetes in the region. In June, regional health ministers committed to the introduction of national legislation to ensure all Pacific countries and territories meet or exceed the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control taxation target and help achieve a Tobacco Free Pacific by 2025. That could see tariffs on cigarettes across the region rise gradually, making cigarettes unaffordable for the least wealthy.

“Whatever we decide to do in terms of addressing NCDs, 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.”

Pacific countries and territories at the inaugural Pacific Non-Communicable Tax to turn tide Ministers add to health funding Diseases (NCD) Summit in Nuku’alofa, Tonga, in June expressed their support for a Pacific funding mechanism to better balance responses to the burden of NCDs in the region. For the time being, regional countries and territories have agreed to explore options to establish greater synergies between funding sources. 

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At CRISIS Point

NCD battle can be won: Clark

HELEN Clark has never shied away from a fight. As New Zealand’s first woman Prime Minister she fought against the odds to lead the nation.Now she is fighting to become the first woman to he of the largest global organisation – the United Nations.

There will be challenges – some of them from very powerful political and industrial lobbies – in this battle but Clark has not and will not step down. So if this woman says that the Pacific can win the battle against Non-Communicable Disease, she knows it can be done and has a plan in place.

“The NCD crisis is surmountable and reversible,” Clark told regional leaders at the inaugural Pacific NCD Summit in Nuku’alofa, Tonga last month. “What we have to gain are not just longer lives and more sustainable economies. It is the enjoyment and pride we take in nurturing new generations to lead healthier lives and in celebrating unique cultures and environments.”

The response from delegates was immediate, warm and positive. Fijian Health Minister, Jone Usumate indicated that his government believed measures could be put in place to reverse NCD trends and ensure a healthier Pacific. “But we need to stop talking about the issue and do something practical to change the situation. 

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Is the health ministry capable?

A major dengue fever outbreak in Vanuatu, with several hundred cases recorded in Port Vila and Luganville, has opened serious allegations about the state of the Ministry of Health. The Vanuatu Ministry of Health is now spearheading a campaign to eradicate mosquito breeding sites around Port Vila and Luganville, plus educating people on how to protect themselves from contracting the virus. But there have been claims that the government health team was slow to react and get itself organised.

The outbreak, which began in early January, has seen more than 30 people a day presenting themselves at the hospitals and private clinics with symptoms of the untreatable virus. One the Ministry of Health’s early ‘initiatives’ was to hand out mosquito nets—a fine deterrent against malaria, but basically irrelevant against dengue which is carried by a day-time mosquito most dangerous around dawn and dusk. A spokesman said the problem has been exacerbated because of the four strains of dengue fever, the one behind the outbreak in the country’s two major towns has not been seen in Vanuatu for around 20 years— which has reduced the chances of potential immunity among the population.

The leader of the government’s anti-dengue campaign Dr Laurence Boe said they have mobilised the Ministry of Health and Vector Control and Environmental Health to do public awareness and education. “We have basically divided them into groups which are visiting different communities in Port Vila and Luganville,” he said. “And especially those areas where there are a number of cases and there are education and awareness campaigns advising the community on prevention and destroying the breeding sites.” Dr Boe said there have been recent outbreaks in Fiji, New Caledonia and other Pacific islands. And it is here that the criticism of the Ministry of Health kicks in, with claims the department should have been better prepared given recent outbreaks around the Pacific.

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