2014: Pacific year in review

Dengue outbreaks in the Pacific

The theme of World Health Day 2014 was vector-borne diseases: “Small bite – big threat”. In the Pacific, this theme was particularly important because of ongoing outbreaks of dengue, zika and chikungunya. Dengue virus serotype 3 re-emerged in several countries and territories, including Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati and Solomon Islands, after nearly 20 years. To combat these outbreaks, health ministries built community awareness around how to prevent dengue and refreshed the skills of medical personnel to recognize and treat the symptoms of dengue.

New WHO Representative presents credentials

Dr Liu Yunguo assumed his role as the WHO Representative to the South Pacific, Director of Pacific Technical Support based in Suva in March 2014. He is responsible for coordination of WHO support to 21 Pacific Island countries and territories.

Solomon Islands flash floods, April 2014

Heavy rains from 3 to 5 April 2014 resulted in flash flooding in Honiara, the capital city of Solomon Islands. Over 52,000 people were affected across the entire country; 9,000 people were living in the 31 evacuations centres throughout Honiara and Guadalcanal Provinces. WHO assisted with the health sector response, addressing issues such as increased risk of child malnutrition and dengue as well as follow up as the families returned to their homes.

Sixty-seventh World Health Assembly

Each year, one Pacific Island minister addresses at the World Health Assembly on behalf of the Pacific island countries. This year then Honourable Minister Mr Charles Sigoto, Solomon Islands, focused on the NCD crisis while also addressing the health impacts of climate change. Minister Sigoto emphasized that ‘working together we can have a greater impact than any of us would have alone’.

WHO Fiji and friends give blood

On World Blood Donor Day (14 June) we were reminded that transfusion of blood and blood products helps save millions of lives each year. Blood can help patients suffering from life-threatening conditions live longer and with a higher quality of life, and can support complex medical procedures. Blood also has an essential, life-saving role in maternal care. In the Pacific, WHO works with Member States to have adequate supplies of safe blood, 100% of which comes from volunteer non-paid blood donors

Tobacco Free Pacific 2025

WHO and partners launched the Tobacco Free Pacific campaign in July 2014. The campaign will drive action to meet the goal the Pacific Ministers of Health adopted of a Tobacco Free Pacific for each Pacific Island country and territory by 2025. Raising taxes on tobacco and declaring and enforcing smoke-free public places are just two of the proven strategies to reduce tobacco use being rolled out in the Pacific.

Pharmaceutical country profiles published

Several country profiles were published in 2014, with more to come. These profiles, developed by WHO and Pacific Island countries, document existing socio-economic and health-related conditions and resources; as well as regulatory structures, processes and outcomes relating to the pharmaceutical sector. This provides a baseline for future work, including work on the looming threat of antimicrobial resistance.

Moving towards a more robust health workforce in Fiji

In response to workforce shortages which result in patient overcrowding in hospitals, long waiting queues for services in emergency and outpatient departments, and for many, the need to travel long distances to access basic health services, WHO together with the Ministry of Health and Fiji Health Sector Support Program (FHSSP) carried out an assessment of workforce needs and projected future requirements. Based on this work, Cabinet agreed to the creation of several hundred new positions over the next four years.

Third International Conference on Small Islands Developing States

NCD, declared a crisis by Pacific Islands Forum leaders, was one of the six priority areas addressed in the Third International Conference on Small Islands Developing States Conference (SIDS). SIDS called on the international community to support SIDS by reducing trade in unhealthy products, encouraging healthy food and drink consumption, and ensuring the noncommunicable disease (NCD) goals and targets are central to the Post-2015 Development Agenda. “No health, no development!” Samoa Minister of Health, Tuitama Leao Dr Talalelei Tuitama urged.

Salt – the hidden danger in the Pacific

In the Pacific, the main cause of premature mortality is cardiovascular diseases. High salt intake contributes to raised blood pressure and hypertension which are key risk factors for heart disease and stroke. WHO’s recent publication – Salt matters for Pacific island countries –is a toolkit for action to reduce salt intake in the region thereby reducing blood pressure, saving thousands of lives every year.

mhGAP – Increasing Coverage of Mental Health Care

The Mental Health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP) integrates mental health by training doctors and nurses to assess and manage priority conditions. This is being rolled out in the Pacific, starting with Fiji to address the unmet need for mental health services in the island countries. The first training of trainers workshop was held in Suva, Fiji in August 2014, organized by the Ministry of Health, WHO and PIMHnet. Participants included 10 mental health specialists from Fiji, and doctors from Kiribati, Tonga and Vanuatu.

Ebola preparedness in the Pacific

Health leaders from 21 Pacific island countries met to discuss progress in implementation of the International Health Regulations (IHR) in the Pacific. The IHR is a WHO-led legal framework between 196 countries. The Regulation provides the basis for international collaboration for the early detection, reporting and response of public health emergencies that may pose serious threats to global health. Preparedness to respond to the deadly Ebola virus, should the virus be imported into the Pacific region by a traveller returning from West Africa, was also discussed.