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Closing of the Primary Health Care Symposium

May 9, 2017       Holiday Inn, Suva

The Minister for Health and Medical Services, The Honourable Rosy Akbar,
The Assistant Minister for Health and Medical Services, The Honourable Alexander O’Connor,
Representatives of the World Health Organisation,
Representatives of the Pacific Community (SPC)
Representatives of the Global Fund,
Representatives of Japan International Cooperation Agency [JICA] Fiji,
Divisional Medical Officers and your respective teams,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen

Ni Sa Bula Vinaka, Asalaam Alaykum, Namaste, Ni Hao, Noa’ia‘e mauri and a Very Good Afternoon to you all.

I am deeply honoured to join you all this afternoon not only to officially close the symposium on primary health care, but more importantly, to be in time to listen to the summary of your deliberations over these past two days.

In opening the symposium yesterday, the Honourable Minister aptly described Fiji’s current health status.

You were informed that Non-Communicable Diseases contribute to 80-percent of deaths of persons under the age of 70, and that, among other things, Fiji is the second-highest Nation with NCD-related deaths in the Pacific.

You all know that this high rate of NCD-related deaths are caused by our peoples’ own lifestyle choices.

You will all agree that this is certainly not the situation we want our Nation to be in for long – especially for many of our people to be dying needlessly simply because of poor lifestyle choices.
This is certainly not the Fiji we want our children and grandchildren to grow into.

You are all aware that Fiji is placing exceptional emphasis on educating and empowering our people. We now have compulsory and free education at the primary school level. We have free education at secondary school level. And we have greater access to tertiary level including technical and academic studies and a clearly focused scholarship system. 

This is in line with Government’s overall aim of establishing our beloved Nation as a ‘Knowledge Based Society’.

Our socio-economic development is improving each year as exemplified by the consistent positive economic growth over the past seven years. For the immediate period, Government projects that this positive growth will continue over the next three years – giving us a record of ten years of positive economic growth.

This consistent positive economic growth is enabling Government to improve our national infrastructure, improve our education and health systems in addition to opening up more opportunities for development at the individual and national levels.

Within the international community, Fiji has set an unprecedented feat of taking on leadership roles including chairing the Group of 77 Plus China with over 130-member countries; presiding over the 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly; co-hosting the United Nations Oceans Conference; and presiding over COP23 to help address climate change and how it is reshaping the lives of the vulnerable people in low-lying communities around the world.

Amidst all of these efforts and achievements, it would be a pity to still have many of our people dying young – at the peak of their productivity – from NCDs.

Our National Advisor on NCDs, Dr. Isimeli Tukana, has always said that NCDs are not genetically inherited. They are the result of poor lifestyle choices. In the iTaukei language, they are referred to as “mate sureti”. In Hindustani, they are known as “gair sank-ramak rog.”

NCDs are a scourge that is greatly affecting the health and social well-being of our people, our societies and our Nation. Given its potential to complicate lives within a family and community, NCDs can be serious impediments to greater national productivity and prosperity!

So, I am here this afternoon not only in my capacity as President and Head of State, but also in my additional capacity as Fiji’s lead advocate and champion  in the national campaign to eliminate NCDs, to personally lend you my support.

I am very encouraged that in the past two days, you have honed in on improving our peoples’ lifestyle behaviours in seven specific settings. They include:

1.    Positive thinking
2.    Avoiding Tobacco, Glue-sniffing and Marijuana
3.    Eating more fresh locally grown foods and vegetables
4.    Drinking lots of fresh water, fruit juices and responsible drinking of alcohol and kava
5.    Exercising every day for at least 30 minutes
6.    Having adequate sleep or rest, and
7.    Having a good family life.

I wish to re-emphasize the importance of your role in transforming our Nation. You are the front-line health professionals and health care providers. Both you and I need to walk the talk and lead by example. We must work together to win the battle against NCDs.

We all need to advocate for wellness lifestyles in our respective communities, settlements and municipalities; through schools and faith-based organisations; and in our workplaces and in sports and social functions.

We must aim to change the behavior of our people to ‘lead healthy lifestyles’.

It is also encouraging to note that our efforts to-date have begun to show some favourable and positive outcomes. Recent statistics show that the rate of tobacco consumption in adults has decreased, albeit slightly, from 17.5% to 16.6%.

The diabetes rate among Fijian adults has also decreased from 16.5% to 15.6%. These are encouraging signs.

However, high blood pressure in adults has increased from 24.2% to 31%. There is also an increase of 2% in childhood obesity compared to an increase of 8.5% in adult obesity.

These increases mean that we must continue in earnest in empowering all Fijians to improve and control their health through living a wellness lifestyle.

We need to scale-up our efforts to change lifestyles in our communities: we need to encourage our people to eat fresh and locally grown foods; to reduce their tobacco consumption; and control their alcohol and kava intake. We also need to encourage them to check their health status regularly for early detection and treatment of NCDs.

Our challenge is firstly to be good role models before we reach out to all the people whom we serve to promote partnership and ownership of our national wellness programme.

I hope that the presentations and real-life stories you have shared over the past two days will encourage you to do more when you return to your respective stations.

I also look forward to meeting you when I make my rounds of visits to the schools and communities that you each serve so that we can continue to make positive progress in combating NCDs.

I now take great pleasure in officially closing the two-day symposium.

May God Bless you all and bless our beloved nation, Fiji.

Vinaka vakalevu, Sukria, Dhanyavaad, Xie Xie, Fai’eksia, and Thank you.