NON-communicable diseases are responsible for four out of every five deaths in the small island states of the Pacific region.
Speaking at the recent World Health Assembly side meeting on NCDs in Geneva, Health Minister Dr Neil Sharma told representatives in some of the Pacific's small island states, the prevalence of tobacco use was over 80 per cent.
Dr Sharma said these NCDs were affecting Pacific peoples earlier in life, robbing them of many of their most productive years and creating complex health needs that were expensive to treat.
He said the same Pacific islands that the world considered "paradise" were also home to some of the highest rates of NCDs in the world.
"Their small size, geographic isolation and widely dispersed populations make them particularly vulnerable to the impact of NCDs as many of the factors contributing to the rise of NCDs are, unfortunately, outside of the control of respective island governments," he said.
"These diseases are having an increasingly devastating impact on the health of the people of the region and are major barriers keeping us from achieving not only the health-related Millennium Development Goals, but also some much broader vision of health in sub-regions like healthy islands for the pacific. Subsequently it hinders economic progress.
"For a long time, many of us working in public health were focused on communicable diseases — and rightfully so."
Dr Sharma said diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and pandemic influenza were pressing priorities.
"NCDs simply did not receive the attention they deserved but changes over the past few decades-particularly rising urbanisation, an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, and the aggressive marketing of foods unnaturally high in fat, salt and sugar — have shifted the focus.
"NCD is a health and economic crisis and in 2011 upon the recommendation of the 9th Pacific Health Ministers meeting called for urgent action to mitigate the crisis.
"Since then, efforts to prevent and control NCDs have been scaled up regionally with development of National NCD Strategies and the operational Crisis Response Plans (CRP) in each country with key milestones to target."