APIA, Samoa—The Youth Forum preceding the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States in Apia, Samoa, began ON AUG. 28. Around 260 young people from the Pacific, Caribbean and AIMS (Atlantic, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean and South China Sea) regions have gathered to discuss the priorities that they will take forward into the coming week of meetings and events at the SIDS Conference.
Dr. Colin Tukuitonga, director-general of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, met with Youth Forum delegates to discuss the issues of health and non-communicable diseases, social development, youth and disability. Of these, Tukuitonga emphasized the challenge of NCDs for the Pacific region: “We have more obese children than ever before. Overweight and obese children are likely to stay obese into adulthood and are more likely to develop NCDs like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases at a younger age.”
The Pacific has outpaced the world in mortality from NCDs. In the Pacific, 75 percent of all deaths annually are due to NCDs and as much as 60 percent of the health care budgets in some Pacific Island countries and territories are going toward expensive, overseas care. And because NCDs often result in premature death (before age 60), they contribute to poverty and lower workforce productivity, which in turn affects national development.
To address NCDs, Tukuitonga said the focus must be on prevention, particularly in supporting healthy lifestyles for children and youth. He highlighted the regional coordinated effort—the Pacific Partnership for a Multi-sector Approach to Prevent and Control NCDs—to strengthen the capacity and expertise to support response efforts in Pacific countries. He said expanding the response to increase the focus on prevention means addressing the risk factors that are often present in childhood, adolescence and youth and he urged the young audience to avoid sugary carbonated drinks and to work together to address smoking among their peers.
Tukuitonga said, “Addressing NCDs and focusing on the youth population will result in a healthier, more productive society, which will in turn contribute opportunities for economic growth. With half the region’s population being under 25 years, this is imperative.” (SPC)