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Living for your family

Dr Temo Waqanivalu
Thursday, February 28, 2013

BEING there to see our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews grow up is one of life's greatest pleasures. Imagine not being there to experience it.

Sadly, this is the reality for too many Fijians.

Heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and cancer are the leading causes of death in Fiji. These diseases are "noncommunicable diseases" (NCDs) or lifestyle diseases, so named because they are not passed from person to person, but develop over time and are influenced by the way we live.

They are causing over 75 per cent of deaths in the Pacific. Our people are dying too young and too early from these diseases that can be prevented, and our entire nation is in a health crisis. This is why the World Health Organisation and the Fiji Ministry of Health have teamed up to tackle the worrying state of Fiji's health, focusing on heart disease and strokes which are responsible for the majority of these premature deaths from NCDs.

What if you could glimpse into the future, see what your health would be like in the next 10 years? The World Health Organisation has developed a tool that can predict your chance of having a heart attack or stroke in that time. Combined with treatment and advice tailored to suit your needs and your risk, this tool can help you save your life.

To know your risk, the first place to go to is your health clinic. Seven health centres across Fiji are using this tool, the WHO prediction chart. Nurses and doctors will measure your blood pressure, your cholesterol, and take into account whether you smoke or have diabetes, along with your age and gender. Combining all these factors together will reveal whether you are in the red zone with greater than 40 per cent chance of having a heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years, in the green zone with less than a 10 per cent chance, or at a risk level in between.

Visualising your risk, knowing your "colour", can be a strong motivator for change, as no matter what your age, there's always the ability to be healthier — to go from the red zone to the orange, from orange to yellow or green.

There are many ways to start. If you smoke — QUIT. It is the single most important action smokers can take to protect their heart and health.

After one patient found out she was in the red zone of risk, she decided to stop smoking her two packs of cigarettes a day, and quit successfully with the support of her family. As a result she reduced her risk of a heart attack or stroke by half — from over 40 per cent to less than 20 per cent — and no doubt she has given herself the gift of a better quality of life and more time to spend with her children and grandchildren.

If you have high blood pressure, lower it by eating less salty food and taking medication if advised by your health worker. If you have diabetes, ensure that it is well controlled with a healthy diet and medication as needed. Have your family help you lead a healthier lifestyle and be more physically active by doing sports and exercise together.

In this time of crisis, we need to help each other out. Start by visiting your health centre, knowing your risk, and taking steps to lead a healthier life. Get your families involved to help our communities be healthier, by making places smoke free, alcohol free, and by starting community sports and exercise activities and competitions to get our people moving!

All of these are part of the WHO Package of Essential NCD Interventions (PEN) implemented through primary health care. It involves everyone, from health care workers, to civil servants, to individuals and their families, as we all have a role to play in addressing the NCD crisis. The implementation of PEN in Fiji will also strengthen our health system and tackle the NCD crisis head on. NCDs are taking our loved ones away from us, too early. By coming together to face this most important health issue of our time and prevent these avoidable deaths, we will gain the gift of time, of years and decades to spend with our families and be with the next generation, every step of the way, guiding them into the future.

* Dr Temo K Waqanivalu is the co-ordinator for Non-communicable Disease (NCD) and Health Promotion Division of the Pacific Technical Support of the WHO South Pacific Office. He can be contacted on

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