Opening Address at the Inaugural Conference of the South Pacific Society of Lifestyle Medicine.
March 10, 2020 Pearl Resort, Pacific Habour.
The President of the South Pacific Society of Lifestyle Medicine, Dr Chester Kuma;
The World Health Organization Team Coordinator Pacific Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) & Health through the Life-Course, Dr Wendy Snowdon;
The South Pacific Community Public Health Nutrition Advisor, Ms Elisiva Na’ati;
Delegates, Observers, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Ni Sa Bula Vinaka, Namaste, Noaia e mauri, Talofa, Malo, Halo, Kia Orana and a very good morning to you all.
Thank you all for joining us here in Fiji for the Inaugural Conference of the South Pacific Society of Lifestyle Medicine, the first of what I hope proves to be many.
Ladies and gentlemen, at the outset, I would like to acknowledge and thank the President of the South Pacific Society of Lifestyle Medicine for kindly inviting me to deliver this morning’s Opening address.
Throughout my tenure as President of Fiji, combatting non-communicable diseases has been a personal passion of mine, so accepting this invitation was an easy “yes”.
I would also like to extend a special welcome to those of you who had travelled far and wide to be at this week’s conference.
From Papua New Guinea to the Cook Islands and everywhere in between, the story is the same; Our families and our communities are being robbed prematurely of our neighbours and loved ones due to the NCD crisis (I would prefer to call it a scourge) which we collectively face.
So, wherever you call home, I thank you for coming together here in Fiji to tackle a crisis that is of great concern, not only to me as the President/Head of State, but equally to Government and all other stakeholders because of its detrimental impacts on our beloved country’s socio-economic progress and prosperity as a developing nation.
When it comes to the NCD epidemic, we in the Pacific share many of the same problems, the same social and cultural roots of obesity, the same dietary dilemmas, and the same geographic disparity.
But while we share many of the same challenges, conferences like this one will allow us to collaborate, and to share solutions –– solutions that can turn the tide on NCDs in the Pacific, strengthen our societies, and save lives.
So, my friends, here, today, it starts with us.
This crisis is causing untold heartache, disability and suffering, and its social and economic consequences are far-reaching.
This calls for innovative ideas –– ideas ¬¬that are founded in both scientific rigor and an understanding of our cultures.
We need to think both globally and locally to effectively fight off NCDs, and regional conferences like this one can give us great hope that we are on the right path to doing just that.
There is great strength and great synergy that can be harnessed when a group of like-minded individuals work together to address a common cause.
This is the power of “us”.
And because lifestyle medicine is a discipline concerned with addressing the cause of disease at its root; our behaviour, both as individuals and a society, our collective efforts are key to unlocking real and lasting change.
In many ways, this makes tackling the NCD crisis one of the most complex medical challenges we face.
Changing a culture is often much more slow-going and challenging than developing a new treatment or even finding a cure.
We have all seen plenty of headlines about coronavirus lately, but the troubling reality is that we are far more likely to lose our loved ones to heart disease, stroke, cancer, or complications from diabetes.
In this sense, NCDs are a “silent killer” and according to WHO, they account for about 71 per cent of all deaths globally each year.
It is time we give this crisis the attention it so urgently deserves.
We can each play our part by focussing our attention on prevention, and becoming advocates for healthy behaviour.
Nearly two thirds of NCD related deaths can be traced back to smoking, unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, harmful use of alcohol and air pollution.
It follows then that these deaths are largely preventable if we can work together to transform our communities from promoting disease to promoting health.
Because while there are no simple, quick-fix solutions to combatting the NCD crisis, that certainly does not mean that there is no hope.
It is quite the opposite with NCDs, more than anything, we can find inspiration in the fact that our fate is in our own hands.
We can make real progress by taking care of ourselves, our families, and our communities.
And we must continue to work to cultivate a health-promoting Pacific; one where all of our people have easy access to clean water, nutritious food, clean air, education, and ¬¬¬¬above all a common sense of humanity that looks beyond self-interest to the wellbeing of our fellow citizens, both now and in future generations.
Ladies and gentlemen, at this juncture, please allow me to inform your goodselves that you may have heard from Dr. Isimeli Tukana that I am also the Lead Advocate/National Champion of our attempt to address/curb the prevalence of NCD/related ailments (hypertension and Diabetes) in Fiji.
In promoting Government’s Wellness Programme, my Staff and I set the pace by “Running the Talk”, in fact; we lead by example by ensuring that we are fit and well at all times.
To conclude, I wish to again thank the President of the South Pacific Society of Lifestyle Medicine for the invitation to speak to you all today, and I congratulate the organising committee for working behind the scenes to make today happen.
To all of this week’s delegates and speakers, I hope you enjoy our famous Fijian hospitality during your short stay with us, and use this as an opportunity to learn, to share, and to turn the tide against NCDs.
It truly does start with us.
On that note, it gives me great pleasure to declare the Inaugural Conference of the South Pacific Society of Lifestyle Medicine officially open.
Thank you, vinaka vakalevu, and may Almighty God bless our Pacific family.