The National, Monday November 11th, 2013
NATIONS around the world, both developing and developed, are waking up and realising the impact that non-communicable diseases (NCD) such as diabetes, cancer, violence and drug addiction are having and will have on their population and economic growth.
The reality is shocking; according to the World Health Organisation, NCD (notably cardiovascular disease and diabetes) account for over 75% of deaths in the Pacific Islands.
In the US and many nations, we observe the Breast Cancer Awareness month in Oct and in Nov we will observe the Diabetes Awareness month and the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.
These diseases and phenomena are plaguing and ravishing the lives of our loved ones, our societies and our economies.
Nations around the world are dedicating days, weeks or months of health promotions to NCDs to bring attention to the problem as they search for an affordable solution for this costly epidemic.
In nations such as PNG, Vanuatu, Fiji and the Solomon Islands, diseases like heart diseases and cancer have begun taking the lives of more men and women each year.
Cancer is now the leading cause of death worldwide.
Disease that were once only thought of as diseases of the West or developed countries are now affecting every nation regardless of its geographic location, social or economic status.
Diabetes and heart disease have surpassed infectious disease such as malaria, diarrhoea and pneumonia as the leading causes of death in countless places, including the South Pacific.
Each year, hundreds of Pacific Islanders suffer strokes, amputations of limbs, blindness or even kidney failure due to diabetes and high blood pressure.
In many cases where lives are spared, the quality of life is transformed forever.
The shocking truth is that the majorities of health systems in the developing world are designed to address health challenges of an infectious nature and are not prepared to deal with chronic, long-term debilitating ones.
With the development of new vaccines and drugs, many of these infectious diseases can be eliminated or effectively treated.
In order for nations to address NCDs effectively, health systems must be transformed to meet emerging health issues of today, all while continuing to meet basic public health needs.
Without proper planning, this transformation can drastically increase the cost of a nation’s health system.
We must first address the full spectrum of disease management from prevention to treatment, and when possible, to cure.
Even for nations that boast amazing access to care, the great challenge is to provide proper services at the appropriate level and at a cost that the nation can afford and sustain.
These changes will not happen overnight and will require innovation, creative financing and changes in the skills of current health workers, infrastructure, modern technology and resources.
By working together, we can ensure we will be ready when the time comes.
Through partnerships, regional training programmes, centres of excellence and infrastructural support, we can begin to address the changing face of health issues in the region.
There is no time to waste.
Dr Carlos Williams
US Health Affairs Attaché in PNG