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Thursday 23 June 2016 | Published in Regional


TONGA – Tonga’s health minister, Saia Piukala, has challenged Pacific governments to step up and be counted in the fight to address non-communicable diseases NCDs).

Dr Piukala told the Pacific NCD Roadmap discussions, which concluded in Nuku‘alofa on Wednesday, that ministers would have failed in their duty if they were unable to convince their governments and public to raise taxes on tobacco.

“We preach about making healthy choices and yet we don’t do it,” he said.

“The environment plays a major role in the healthy choice. If a can of coke is cheaper than a bottle of water, you buy coke instead of water.”

PacNews reports him saying that they were concerned about the 70 per cent of Tongans who are non-smokers but could possibly become secondary smokers.

The Director General of the regional body, the Pacific Community, admitted that not enough governments were implementing a regional roadmap to fight NCDs.

Colin Tukuitonga said the regional roadmap which was established in 2014 had produced highly variable results because few governments were applying it.

“So some countries have done a good job but it’s not done across the region and that’s the problem,” he said.

“And one of the weaknesses in this of course is that the tobacco industry would still target the countries that don’t have effective interactions.

“So whilst it’s good that we have a roadmap, it’s not being applied consistently and uniformly across the region.”

Up to 75 per cent of deaths in the Pacific today are understood to be due to NCDs and 40 percent of those are premature deaths – people dying before they reach their 40th birthday.

The President of Kiribati, Taneti Mamau has pledged the highest level of political commitment to lead change over soaring levels of NCDs in his country.

Speaking at the meeting in Tonga, Taneti Mamau said the high level of fatalities were preventable.

President Mamau argued that if Pacific Leaders are not serious about addressing NCDs as a priority, efforts towards development and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals would be completely undermined.

PacNews reported him saying that in Kiribati nearly 50 per cent of people visiting health facilities, most of whom are in their 20s, had diabetes, while 47 per cent have hypertension.

The president said Kiribati had the highest use of tobacco at 52 per cent and the second highest in obesity at 46 per cent.

President Mamau said the rate of amputation is increasing with 7 to 8 persons a month losing their limb or limbs.

He said the figures are just the tip of the iceberg because they only capture those admitted to the national hospital.

A doctor in Fiji says the population will be heavily disabled if nothing is done to stop diabetes.

Dr Jone Hawea from The Foundation of Rural Intergrated Enterprises and Development, claimed an estimated 700 amputations were done each year in Fiji due to diabetes related infections.

He said they were removing limbs from people as young as 30, and as a result in the future the countries productivity levels could be stunted.

“On a national scale our leaders have been shouting that, diabetes is a crisis especially amputation is a crisis, but it’s not reflective in our budgets and what’s coming out on a national scale, on a policy level,” Dr Hawea said.

He said people were putting up their hands and wanting to make a difference to the statistics which brought hope for the future.