Health ministers from 20 Pacific island countries and areas convened yesterday in the Cook Islands for the 12th Pacific Health Ministers Meeting. The biennial gathering seeks to reaffirm the importance of the Healthy Islands vision in promoting and protecting the health of the Pacific islands people.
The Healthy Islands vision is to strengthen leadership, governance and accountability; nurture children in body and mind; reduce avoidable disease and premature death; and promote ecological balance. It has served as a unifying theme for health protection and promotion in the Pacific since it was adopted at the first Pacific Health Ministers Meeting on Yanuca Island, Fiji in 1995. It reflects the comprehensive, integrated approach to health that is a hallmark of the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Western Pacific Region.
Key issues to be discussed in this year’s three-day meeting include: a Healthy Islands monitoring framework; universal health coverage; health information systems; rheumatic heart disease; health workforce development in the Pacific; noncommunicable diseases including childhood obesity; mental health; emerging diseases and disaster preparedness and response; and climate change and health.
In his welcome speech, the Cook Islands Minister of Health, Honourable Nandi Glassie stated “each country should and are expected to define its own health system priorities and path to better health for all its citizens. In the Cook Islands, primary health care has been an organizing principle for its health system as it encompasses a public health approach as well as individual care at primary, secondary and tertiary levels”.
The biannual ministers meetings and ongoing work of health professionals, government ministries and donor partners have helped establish the Healthy Islands movement as a major public health force in the Pacific, and one which is closely aligned with the Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 goal of universal health coverage, in which all people get quality health services without suffering financial hardship.
At the opening ceremony of the meeting in Rarotonga, Dr Shin Young-soo, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, congratulated health ministers for their achievements to date, and called for increased investment in health across the Pacific, with training of additional doctors and nurses and expansion of services to tackle some of the region’s major health challenges.
“The rapidly rising burden of noncommunicable disease is a particularly worrisome trend. We have seen good progress—for instance, in reducing tobacco use and improving physical activity levels in some areas—and there has been strong political recognition of the NCD crisis in the Pacific,” said Dr Shin. “I congratulate you on your leadership and firm commitment to addressing it. But, we need to do much more—especially to defuse impending crises such as the sharp increase in childhood obesity. WHO remains committed to supporting Pacific island countries to do this.”
The above was further reinforced by the Director General of the Pacific Community (SPC), Dr Colin Tuikuitonga who said, “NCDs continue to be the main health burden for us as Pacific islanders, but thanks to the leadership of our ministers, we as a region are leading the fight against NCDs on many fronts”.
The meeting is due to wrap up on 30 August.
Roana Mataitini, Ministry of Health, Cook Islands, Phone: +682 54029, Email: roana.mataitini [at] cookislands.gov.ck
Mr Saula Volavola, Communications Officer, Division of Pacific Technical Support, WHO Fiji, Phone: +679 330 4600, Email: volavolar [at] who.int