The Pacific Health Crisis
NOUMEA: 14 September 2011 − An epidemic of chronic lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, heart failure and cancer is undermining economic development and has placed the region in ‘an NCD crisis’, Pacific Islands Forum leaders have declared.
At their meeting in Auckland last week, Forum leaders heard the facts about the impact of NCDs (non-communicable diseases, so-called in medical circles to distinguish them from communicable ones such as malaria, influenza, tuberculosis and dengue).
World Health Organization (WHO) surveys show NCDs now account for three out of every four deaths in the region and leaders were told the Pacific has some of the highest rates of these diseases and their causes in the world. This has resulted in a growing burden on health systems and high levels of slow, painful and premature deaths with considerable social and economic impact.
Recognizing the situation as a ‘human, social and economic crisis requiring an urgent and comprehensive response’, Forum leaders said decisive action was needed to address the NCD crisis.
In their statement, ‘leaders expressed alarm that 75 per cent of all adult deaths in the Pacific are due to NCDs, with the majority coming from the economically active age bracket, and that many more times this number suffer severe side effects that undermine their capacity to contribute further to economic development’.
Noting the World Economic Forum’s ranking of NCDs as one of the top global threats to economic development, leaders concluded the crisis could undermine the future economic development of countries of the region.
Leaders are now concerned that NCDs cause a substantial drain on economic potential by adversely affecting the four main factors of economic growth: labour supply, productivity, investment, and education. The crisis could also undermine the region’s achievement of the 2015 Millennium Development Goal (MDG) health targets.
The main causes of NCDs are high levels of tobacco and alcohol use, low consumption of fruit and vegetables and low levels of physical activity. Leaders thus committed their governments to fast-track five key actions proven to reduce NCDs—tobacco control, improved diets (mainly through reduction of salt, fats and sugar), physical activity, reduced alcohol intake, and access to essential drugs and technologies. They also noted that many NCD interventions are revenue-generating, such as increases in taxes for tobacco and alcohol.
Forum leaders further commended and welcomed the commitment by Pacific Ministers of Health to provide sustained leadership and support for NCD prevention and control through ‘whole of government and whole of society’ approaches to address the NCD crisis. They also welcomed a similar commitment by Pacific Ministers of Sport.
They specifically called on the Secretariat of the Pacific Community and World Health Organization and other regional agencies to work with all Pacific Island countries using their respective ‘whole of government, whole of society’ approaches to strengthen their capacities to address NCDs as a matter of urgency.
WHO Western Pacific Regional Director, Dr. Shin Young-soo, and Director-General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Dr Jimmie Rodgers, acknowledged ‘with great appreciation’ the priority accorded by the leaders to NCD prevention and control and pledged their support and cooperation to assist the region address this number one public health problem.
Welcoming the declaration, Dr Rodgers said that top-level political commitment to taking action on NCDs was critical.
‘The call for a ‘whole of government and whole of society approach’ is both timely and crucial as most of the risk factors and determinants for NCDs lie outside of the health sector and so do most of the solutions,’ he said.
‘The war against NCDs needs to be fought at the individual, family, community, whole of government and the whole of society level in each country and in the Pacific region.’
‘The war needs the vision of leaders, the commitment of governments, the support of partners, and assistance from regional and international bodies. Together we will make a difference. ‘
‘Pacific leaders have declared the crisis. Now we in the Pacific must take up the challenge’.
Also supporting the declaration, Dr Shin Young-soo said it was ‘great to see the urgency’ leaders have placed on NCDs since they are among the biggest health burdens in Pacific Island countries. They impact on all spheres of development and hinder the achievement of the MDGs and the ‘Healthy Islands’ principles agreed to by all countries and territories.
‘It augments the commitment by Ministers of Health to scale up their action including the strengthening of their respective health systems to deal with NCDs and other areas in their last meeting in Honiara,’ he said.
WHO Western Pacific Region has prioritised NCD prevention and control and the 62nd Regional Committee next month will address NCDs with a view to expanding and intensifying prevention and control in the region.
SPC’s governing body, the Committee of Representatives of Governments and Administrations (CRGA) has prioritised prevention and will also address NCDs at its 41st meeting in November with a view to intensifying prevention and control efforts in collaboration with WHO.
Both WHO and SPC are supporting the Pacific Islands delegations to the United Nations General Assembly High-Level Meeting on NCDs in New York next week (19−20 September 2011) which should add global momentum to the fight against NCDs and lead to enhanced collaboration between agencies and partners.
SPC and WHO applaud Pacific Island Forum Leaders for their leadership and foresight in addressing the issue of NCDs with urgency. They acknowledge the current support for NCD work provided by Australia and New Zealand through the 2-1-22 Pacific NCD programme and welcome the recent announcement by Australia of continued support for NCD prevention and control in the region.