ALBERT Park was a hive of activities this week. You can bet that apart from the thrilling and entertaining programmes and joy-rides, food is one of the biggest attractions at the annual Hibiscus Festival.
This could pose as a big challenge for medical professionals in terms of encouraging people to eat right and live healthy lifestyles when the temptations are endless and even bigger at this very public event.
But since 2009, the College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences had set up a 'Health Tent' at the park that offered general health services free of charge.
At first, the idea was to gather sample data from random groups of people but as another year passed, the institute branched out into more effective service delivery programmes engaging relevant stakeholders throughout the process.
Back then, health screening and oral health services were the two provisions at the tent until last year when consultants and physicians were roped in to offer advice to the general public. Pharmacology, midwifery and maternal health were also added to the list of services provided at the tent.
You might be wondering what this has to do with having fun and enjoying the programmes at Albert Park this weekend. For starters, it's all about life - the value of living a full, healthy and happy life wherever you go and however you indulge.
Awareness programmes over the past few months had focused on the dangers of non-communicable diseases and the ripple effects on your family and friends' livelihood.
In an effort to combat the rising number of NCD-related cases, the college has taken on the responsibility to continue to promote healthy living through the provision of free medical services at the Hibiscus Festival.
This week, college dean Professor Ian Rouse explained that medical students were roped in to provide these services and collect data for national health promotion campaigns.
"With the pervasive problem of NCDs in Fiji and the region, the college is a keen supporter of the Hibiscus Festival and of communicating health messages to be able to try and combat this problem. The College's engagement with the Hibiscus Festival this year is twofold in sponsoring four students - one student nurse and student doctor in the Queens category, and one student nurse and one student male doctor in the Kings category," he told The Fiji Times.
"Having our students as health champions and advocating the college slogan of 'choose health' each of our students will be advocating a specific health message on the issue of NCD in Fiji. We are also partnering with the Ministry of Health - they would complement what we are doing down at the health village.
"Our students understand health from a clinical perspective. These past months and weeks leading up to the Hibiscus Festival - staff and students, part of the committees to assist our students prepare for the festival - they have been practising public speaking and sharpening their interpersonal skills to be able to engage and hopefully influence an audience.
"We believe, as young people, they have the opportunity to be able to communicate these health messages to their peers and change behaviour to ensure when they do become parents in their adult life, they would know how basic dietary, exercise and nutrition can contribute to a healthy long life."
Prof Rouse said the college would engage in health service delivery while the ministry would focus solely on information and awareness on health messages with four key focus areas -smoking, nutrition, alcohol and physical activity.
Considering the week-long festivities, Prof Rouse said more than $40,000 had been budgeted for their participation this year.
"Our experience each year at the Hibiscus Festival has seen a positive turnout. With media partnership - Fiji Broadcasting Corporation Limited and local media running print ads to inform people of our health services - we anticipate the numbers to double what we saw last year," he said.
"With a larger tent and with more students and staff at the health tent, we are prepared for this. We believe that generally everyone cares about their health. What we do at this national festival is offer a free and easy opportunity for people to access health services, and in a time that they are free.
"We have also experienced that late 20s through to people in their late 60s and 70s access our health services. Young people do not see health services as something they are not concerned about."
According to the 2011 Health Screening Report, the exercise noted NCD risk factors were still highly prevalent in the population. This conclusion was made after analysing data obtained from 564 individuals.
Tobacco smoking continued to represent one of the major risk factors for heart diseases. The data indicated close to 40 per cent of those that participated were smoking while almost 98 per cent smoked every day.
It went on to reveal 78 per cent of those surveyed consumed alcohol indicating the need to create awareness of their health implications.
An interesting note was the low intake of fruits and vegetables revealed during the data collection process.
"(This) indicates that there is a greater need to educate the public on the recommended intake per day and its health benefits," the report stated.
"Body Mass Index (BMI) indicates overweight and obesity. Among the participants, there were 68.8 per cent overweight and obese. This suggests that there is a high risk of diseases associated with obesity.
"Males were at a high risk of having hypertension compared to females. Almost a quarter of the participants were previously identified with hypertension. Thus there is a large proportion of the population at risk of serious related diseases."
The report also highlighted several eye care and oral health challenges and recommendations including a wellness program to be incorporated into the activities. It's all about a healthy long life so why not get an update on your health free of charge at Albert Park.