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Invest in your health

Selwa Nandan
Monday, September 11, 2017

THE often recited and popular idiom health is wealth serves as a timely reminder amplifying the importance of looking after one's health. Simply put, it connotes that one cannot enjoy his wealth if he is not healthy.

But do we really care about our health? And more importantly are we doing anything about it despite being aware of the inherent risks?

Well the statistics do not say so. It is quite apparent from the rising incidence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) related mortalities that all the warnings seem to be falling on deaf ears.

There has not been any dramatic shift in our lifestyles or eating and drinking habits. We work our guts out and when the time comes to enjoy the fruits of our hard labour we are plagued by all sorts of sickness and health problems draining away our savings in treatment and medication.

But most alarming is the unprecedented increase in NCD deaths among the younger population. It seems to me that we are overly engrossed with environmental issues and assigning lesser priority to our deteriorating health standards.

NCD mortality

According to a WHO report, of the 56.4 million global deaths in 2015, 39.5 million, or 70 per cent were because of NCDs. The four main NCDs are cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes and chronic lung diseases.

It further noted that the burden of these diseases is rising disproportionately among lower income countries and populations. The leading causes of NCD deaths in 2015 were cardiovascular diseases (17.7 million deaths, or 45 per cent of all NCD deaths), cancers (8.8 million or 22 per cent of all NCD deaths), and respiratory diseases, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (3.9 million).

Diabetes caused another 1.6 million deaths. In Fiji, NCDs are estimated to account for 80 per cent of our total death with most of them dying prematurely.

Sharp rise in cancer cases

The revelation that the number of cases of people diagnosed with cancer over the past decade has tripled is indeed startling and a matter of grave concern. While speaking at the Bushells Fiji's Biggest Morning Tea event recently, subdivisional medical officer West Dr Susana Nakalevu said the highest number of cases was recorded in 2014 with 1682 cases in that year alone (FT 31/8).

She said female reproductive tract cancers such as breast, cervix, uterus and ovarian cancer were the main contributors to the incidences of mortality rates of cancers when compared with other forms of cancers.

"For males, prostate cancer and cancer of the kidney are the main causes of death," she said.

These illnesses were virtually unheard of a decade ago. So why have they suddenly become so prevalent and malignant now? Is it attributive to the quality of the food or excessive consumption of alcohol and kava?

Heart disease a major concern in Fiji

It came as no surprise to learn that heart diseases among locals were more severe compared with people in India.

Dr Nitin Patil, a cardiac anaesthetist from India, made this observation during his recent visit to Fiji with a team of specialists to perform open heart surgeries at the CWM Hospital.

His advice was that people with heart problems should take less fatty foods, do regular exercise, avoid smoking and refrain from taking carbonated drinks.

"In fact, parents should not give their children carbonated drinks because it causes diabetes which in turn is a major cause for heart disease," he warned.

The parents know very well that the sale of fizzy drinks have been banned from school canteens. Yet trolleys full of soft drinks are a common sight at supermarkets. Such behavioural attitude clearly testifies the growing culture of ignorance permeating our society.

The vigorous marketing strategies employed by the companies targeting the children and the absence of any health warning on the product labels do not help in curtailing the addiction either.

Is our food the main cause?

There is anecdotal evidence that you are at a greater risk of getting high cholesterol and heart diseases if your regular diet includes deep-fried foods. Despite vigorous tests being conducted, there is no conclusive evidence to prove that additives used in foods are harmless to our health. It is a well-known fact that sodium nitrate and nitrite are the two most common chemicals used as a preservative and to add colour and flavour to processed meat.

Sodium nitrate has been found to be highly carcinogenic once it enters the human digestive system. There, it forms a variety of nitrosamine compounds that enter the bloodstream and wreak havoc with a number of internal organs; the liver and pancreas in particular.

Carcinogen is defined as any substance that can cause cancer. Foods that are labelled as carcinogenic include processed meat such as bacon, sausages, hot dogs and salami.

Presently there is intense debate as to whether glyphosate which is the active ingredient in most pesticides can cause cancer and birth defects. In Fiji, we continue to allow indiscriminate and unrestricted spraying of pesticides and use of fertilisers on our produce.

Are NCDS preventable?

In his article (FT 29/8), Father Kevin Barr dwelled at length about the detrimental effects of binge drinking of grog and the need to exercise moderation during talanoa sessions and funeral gatherings.

Some Hindu organisations observe a mourning period of up to 16 days where grog is consumed until the early hours of the morning only exacerbating the sufferings of the aggrieved family.

I was astounded to hear that 10kgs of kava was consumed in one particular sitting alone.

That's about $700 worth based on current market price, not to mention the cost of cigarettes.

The same money could be better spent on buying healthy food. What was more disturbing was the misguided belief that if no grog is offered by the family then people would not come.

In other words, they are only there for their own enjoyment and not to share the grief.

I believe it is incumbent upon faith-based organisations and spiritual leaders and pundits to give some serious thought as to how this burden can be reduced.

One option would be to review the duration for this ritual. In fact I would suggest that this issue should be put on top of the agenda at all high level forums for a public debate.

* Selwa Nandan is a regular contributor to this newspaper. Views expressed are his and not of this newspaper.

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