PNG must prepare for changing face of health

Letters, Normal

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