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Our people at risk

OUR Pacific finds itself in an emergency and how we choose to deal with it right now will determine our future. Non-communicable diseases – primarily heart disease, cancers, chronic lung diseases and diabetes – are killing our people; more than any other cause or ailment. We have among the highest prevalence of NCDs and NCD risk factors in the world. In fact these diseases are responsible for six to eight of every 10 recorded deaths in the Pacific. We are also the epicenter of obesity.

Seven Pacific island nations rank among the top 10 globally. As a medical doctor it is heartbreaking to see our small island nations feature prominently on these global top ten lists. These largely preventable and manageable diseases are striking down our youth and our productive populations. As the Director-General of the Pacific Community (SPC), the region’s principal scientific and technical organisation, I recognise that this is more than a health crisis.

We are facing a development crisis and while this emergency calls for quick and decisive action it cannot be left to our doctors and health officials alone to address. We affect our environment and our environment affects us. This is a sentiment we Pacific Islanders understand well as our history and culture are deeply entwined with the land we come from. In her opening speech at the inaugural Pacific NCD Summit in Tonga organised by the Government of Tonga and the Pacific Community (SPC) with support from key development partners, the United Nations Development Programme Administrator and former New Zealand Prime Minister, Helen Clark, articulated our region’s predicament quite well by stating that NCDs and the socio-economic environment of a country are related.

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