Silence, the biggest killer in the Pacific!

Words from Orakidorm

By Stevenson Kuartei

Two days ago (Oct. 19) here in American Samoa, the LBJ Tropical Medical Center, their only hospital, and the Department of Health held a medical symposium, the first one ever between the two entities. The morning topic was on the burden of Diabetes in the Territory and in the afternoon was series of topics on human resource development in health. The data shared in the morning by the local presenters was overwhelming. For example, the rate of Diabetes in the Territory is 47% and youngest person was 12 years old. The cost of taking care of it is skyrocketing and the rates of off-island referral and hemodialysis are increasing every year. As I thought about this, I could not help but feel this sadness because the very same thing is happening in Palau.

We have 3-4% of our school children spilling sugars and protein in their urine and about 30% of them are overweight or obese. We are the 7th most overweight country in the world and our tobacco use is high. We all have members of our families suffering with NCDs. We are continuing to struggle with ever-increasing rate and burden of Non-Communicable Diseases and so why the silence? Our NCD numbers (Palau and rest of Pacific Islands) are so bad that it qualifies as one of the worst social disasters in the world and yet we remain silent about this crisis. Why?

I read the President’s statement at the UN and he highlighted the issue of NCD as a social development issue and I could never agree more. He is so right! But guess what, NCDs also threaten our economic development, our human resource development, our very own security and sadly our own survival as ethnic Palauans. For those who continue to deny and behave as if this is an individual choice and lifestyle, you are greatly mistaken because young people are getting affected with NCDs. The youngest Palauan that has developed adult onset diabetes is 15. Now, if she gives birth at age 22, how is her child responsible for lifestyle or individual choice. That child has no choice!!! So we are now changing the face of NCDs from non-communicable to communicable as they are now passed through birth. In American Samoa, they are noticing an increasing number of birth by C-Section (surgery to take the baby out) and because the babies are huge due diabetes. Even after birth, the babies have problems with sugar unstable blood sugar level. This is also happening in Palau. Ask our doctors and they will tell you. And this is just diabetes.  How about other NCDs? Have you noticed the number of people with gout? What about high blood? So why the silence?

As a community and as a country we can’t allow this to continue because we are now making decisions for the next generation. It is quite sad, in fact, not just sad, it is unethical to know that we can prevent the next generation from the suffering the burden of NCDs but we choose to be apathetic about it. The immediate future, Palau will begin to see people dying before their parents and it is already happening. The burden of NCDs will GET WORSE!! The answer is not down stream but rather it is upstream. It depends on the effort and resource that we spend on prevention of diseases, promoting and protecting health. The silence in these three areas, will one day be the worst of all neglect that we done in our community. We all must stop the silence and the apathy toward this social crisis.

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