Small Island States Bear Disproportionate Burden of Non-Communicable Diseases

Over 85% of Fiji’s residents die of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), primarily strokes, heart disease and diabetes. Almost two-thirds of adults in the south Pacific country are overweight and 30% are obese.

Similarly, three-quarters of the residents of Vanuatu, a collection of 80 islands also in the south Pacific, die prematurely of NCDs, primarily strokes and heart disease. 

Two-thirds of those who die of cardiovascular diseases are under the age of 70. Some 57% of adults are overweight and 40% have hypertension.

Both Fiji and Vanuatu are small island developing states (SIDS), where deaths from NCDs are much higher than average, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO)

The WHO hosted a meeting this week to discuss NCDs in the states and launched a data portal that profiles the 40 member states classified as SIDS.

SIDS are defined as a set of islands and coastal states that share similar sustainable development challenges as a result of their size, geography and vulnerability to climate change. 

Marginalised communities

These countries are disproportionately affected by the four main NCDs – namely cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases.

Ten of the nations with the highest obesity rates in the world are SIDS, 30% of adults have hypertension, and SIDS also have one of the highest prevalence of adult diabetes in the world.

In addition, rates of mental health conditions reach as high as 15% in the Caribbean and the Pacific. 

“The climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with poverty, unemployment, inequality and the marginalization of minority communities, are fuelling an increase in non-communicable diseases and mental health conditions,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the SIDS meeting.

During the meeting, participants identified key steps to achieve a one-third reduction in premature mortality from NCDs and suicide before 2030. These include early detection, prevention and management; strengthening health systems in the face of the climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic; tackling obesity, and providing adequate, sustainable financial and human resources for NCDs and mental health.  

The promotion of ultra-processed products, cigarettes and alcohol, were also identified as culprits driving premature deaths in the SIDS. 

Some states have already introduced health taxation, incorporating health into climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts, and maintaining NCD and mental health services during health emergencies. 

Image Credits: Monika MG/ Unsplash.

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