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Te Tuhi Kelly: ‘It’s a when, not an if’

Tuesday 12 September 2023 | Written by Te Tuhi Kelly | Published in Editorials, Opinion

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Te Tuhi Kelly: ‘It’s a when, not an if’
Pacific Medical Association’s conference was held in Rarotonga. MELINA ETCHES / 23090618

I went to the morning session on the second day of the Pacific Medical Association’s conference here in Rarotonga, I was particularly interested in the role of traditional health and wellness models that countries with native populations ringing the Pacific had developed, writes Te Tuhi Kelly.

Some interesting developments regarding the whole area of health and wellness, especially in Anchorage Alaska were presented and long overdue to be adopted and ‘RARO-ised’ for us here in the Cook Islands.

Doctor Sir Colin Tukuitonga spoke about Noncommunicable diseases (NCDS) and the fact that despite significant investment in this area, despite high level policy and despite resource allocation, NCDS were in fact on the rise.

“What is the NCD rate in the Cook Islands?

The World Health Organization (WHO) global action plan NCD target seeks to reduce NCD-associated premature deaths by 25% by 2025.

The proportion of premature deaths from NCDS in the Cook Islands has steadily declined (2016 = 24%, 2017 = 22%, 2018 = 20%), in 2019, it was 26%”.

That is deaths, that doesn’t consider the cost of health and wellness care which requires medical intervention both here and in New Zealand and at tremendous cost.

So, despite appealing to people about their health and that of their partners, nothing seems to be getting home here in the Cook Islands, especially with our men folk.

To quote, “Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes, are the leading cause of mortality in the world”, so I’m not making this up, the facts are the facts.

This is a message to all those who suffer from or contribute to their NCDS out there, who are morbidly obese, go look at yourself in the mirror, you are at extreme risk of dying when you least expect it.

You are on a roller coaster ride that only has one conclusion for yourself, and your family, and your wider friends.

You are literally eating yourself to death because the joke is on you, it’s a when not an if.

Forget those six-week gym crash courses, they are a short-term fix, a whole of life change needs to occur and that’s the sad thing about your current lifestyle leading to NCDS.

At the moment it seems no one wants to listen, no one cares, and you will reap the consequences of poor lifestyle choices or reap the benefits of healthy lifestyle choices.

You have a chance to live a fulfilling life, the chance to grow old with your partner, children and grandchildren, if you don’t, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

So, what are you going to do about it?

The other focus of course at many of these types of conferences, is that the presenters are essentially presenting to those of like mind, you know, talking to the converted.

The ones who need to hear the message are absent and so the message has largely lost its effectiveness because those who need to hear the message are not in attendance.

There is always an element of wishful thinking and in particular about medical statistics, and the need to arrest the increase in NCDS.

At a session of the Pacific Medical Association conference, Dr Sir Tukuitonga focused on the sale and consumption of tobacco products and alcohol, and the need for countries to focus on trying to do something about it.

If they are talking about restricting access or stopping people from using, it is a pipe dream and one that is always brought up at these types of conferences.

The thing is, in an ideal world, yes you could ban these products completely, but we are not in such a world because like Sir Isaac Newton’s laws and one in particular, to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

The criminal element will just ignore such restrictions.

The consumer will ignore such restrictions, we only have to look at prohibition in the United States,  back in the day.

How successful was that, how many players and stayers got rich and richer as a result.

The reality is that tobacco products and alcohol contribute significant tax revenues for governments, they provide jobs, the trickle-down effect is noticeable and no government in its right mind would stay in power if measures were taken to ban those substances.

The taxes go towards government spending, business owners pay wages, employees spend at supermarkets and the money flows through the economy.

So that is the roll-on effect that comments made at these sorts of conferences do not take into account, the human factor or government factor, or economic factor.

They are all intertwined, an incestuous relationship if ever there was.

Now if Dr Tukuitonga had said, I have an alternative that will help government revenues, and keep people healthy and well, then he may have got some traction.

This is the issue, these people are not economists, just wishful thinking medical professionals.