Medics voice Pacific health concerns

Thursday February 08, 2018 Written by Published in Regional

PACIFIC – A volunteer doctor working in remote parts of the Pacific says there’s a big need for education about the role diet plays in combatting diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure.


Derek Allen has spent the past 30 years working in remote parts of the world where professional health care is lacking.

He is currently working for two months on the Vanuatu island of Malekula providing medical care alongside nurses at the small local hospital.

Dr Allen, who is from New Zealand, said he was seeing a variety of problems – and increasingly those caused by diets too rich in carbohydrates from root crops and white rice and lacking in protein and vegetables.

“Over-nutrition’s what I see, people who eat too much. They have very good gardens and good rainfall therefore they have plenty of food – but too many carbohydrates in terms of manioc and taro, corn and kumala – and then they might go out and buy some white rice to add on top of that, so not very high in the proper proteins or vegetables,” Allen told Dateline Pacific.

“Meat’s a luxury for birthing days and funerals only.

“I always try, with every patient I see, to give them some public health tidbits on how they can minimise their disease, the impact on them, how they can prevent it in their children and prevent it in their community.”

Dr Allen said being overweight was a common problem in the province of Lamap, leading to other health issues.

“Stress – their blood pressure’s too high – many people have diabetes because of being overweight.

“Some people have problems here because of an increasing amount of marijuana that’s around at the moment that causes health issues.

“There’s lots of domestic violence here as well. I’ve probably seen in the last two or three weeks four cases of domestic violence – women getting beaten by their husbands.”

Dr Allen said finding appropriate staff to go to remote islands is a big concern.

He said the Lamap province had been seeking four doctors for the past six years but had been unable to fill the positions as health professionals preferred to work in the major centres of Port Vila and on Santo.

Meanwhile, a Samoa health official is hopeful that more Samoans will embrace lifestyle changes to ward off the threat of non-communicable diseases.

The manager of the Ministry of Health’s Renal Division, Christina Poliai, said the numbers seeking dialysis have escalated in the 12 years since dialysis facilities were first available in Samoa.

She said they were up from six in 2005 to 103 now, which has required an additional shift at the hospital.

Poliai said the numbers needing dialysis could still climb substantially but she hopes the work that has gone into educating people about how to combat NCDs starts to bear fruit.

“So hopefully in the next five years we will start to see the effect of that, but at the moment it is just that people are starting to change their lifestyles, especially with their eating habits, exercising, eating the right kind of food, all those measures that can try and reduce the incidence of NCDs and especially kidney disease.”          - RNZI

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