By Mara Hosoda, Public Affairs Section, U.S. Consulate General, Auckland.
Non-communicable diseases (NCDs)–heart disease, cancers, lung disease and diabetes–are a major issue for the Pacific. NCDs are the leading cause of death in the Pacific and in some Pacific Island countries life expectancy is declining as a result of NCD-related premature deaths. Developing a sustainable health workforce and strategic plan is important to address NCDs in the Pacific.
On June 24, 2016 three U.S. representatives from Washington D.C. visited Auckland, New Zealand, coming from the Pacific NCD Summit in Nukualofa, Tonga enroute to further programming in Apia, Samoa. The three representatives were: Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS) Thomas Novotny from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Ms. Ebony Andrews from the President’s Council on Fitness, Sport and Nutrition and Ms. Diana Huestis from the Office of Global Health Diplomacy in the U.S. Despite their short stay in New Zealand, the U.S. representatives kept busy while in Auckland.
Their day started with a great meeting with the University of Auckland Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences (FMHS). They met with the Dean, Head of School of Medicine, and Director of the National Institute for Health Innovation and International Manager. They discussed potential partnerships throughout the Pacific to support human resource development in the health sector. DAS Novotny encouraged more exchanges, especially in light of his recent announcement that the U.S. government will be sponsoring a Pacific-wide exchange program focused on obesity, nutrition and NCDs. See here for details: suva.usembassy.gov/.
The next event took the U.S. representatives out to South Auckland to visit Genetics Gym and the Big Boys, Big Girls program owned and managed by Buck Stowers. Primary care physicians refer patients with NCDs to encourage health, fitness and nutrition. The program is unique in that it is centered upon the values of family and the group collective. Genetics gym is affordable holistic health care and has documented evidence of positive results. The U.S. representatives were fortunate to hear korero from program participants themselves about how much the program means to them and their families. The U.S. representatives also rolled up their sleeves to participate in the push-up challenge.
The final event for the day was with the Counties Manukau District Health Board and Ko Awatea based at Middlemore hospital. The U.S. representatives enjoyed Samoan performances, including fa’ataupati and taualuga, occurring for high school students and community members as a part of Pacific Week at the hospital. Pacific Week is one means by which the District Health Board pipelines Pacific students from science subjects to health degrees at universities, and into the health workforce.
The U.S. representatives were fortunate to meet with the Director of Strategic Development of Counties Manukau Health and Manager of Pacific Community & Workforce Development. Discussions centered upon how health programs between the U.S., New Zealand, and Pacific Island countries can be further enhanced and supported in the future.