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Introductory remarks at the Joint Forum Economic and Health Ministers' Meeting by Secretary General, Tuiloma Neroni Slade


PACIFIC ISLANDS FORUM SECRETARIAT

Joint Forum Economic and Health Ministers Meeting

Honiara, Solomon Islands

11 July 2014

 

Introductory Remarks

by

Tuiloma Neroni Slade

Secretary General

Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat

 

Mr Chairman

Honourable Prime Minister

Honourable Ministers and Heads of Delegations

Director General Dr Colin Tukuitonga

WHO Regional Director, Dr Shin Young-soo

Representatives of Development Partners, International & Regional Organisations

Distinguished participants

 

Hon Prime Minister, I believe I can speak for all assembled to express to you and your Government our grateful appreciation for the kindness and courtesies extended to us all. Not once, but twice in a week, you have played host to highly important regional meetings, and to welcome senior Pacific Ministers to the Solomon Islands. Thank you for your words of guidance and support to this Joint Economic and Health Ministers Meeting.

2.       May I also thank the Regional Director of the World Health Organisation, Dr Shin Young-soo, for his important message and the insight and direction it provides.

3.       Today’s Joint Economic and Health Ministers meeting is a demonstration of concern, a leadership effort to face up to a very serious situation of Non- Communicable Diseases (NCDs) in Pacific Island Countries and Territories. We meet in acknowledgement of the alarm and deep concern expressed by Forum Leaders in Auckland in 2011: we need to build on efforts taken since, for NCDs have reached dangerous epidemic proportions in Pacific Island Countries and has become, literally, a human, social and economic crisis requiring immediate comprehensive and effective responses.

4.       Economic Ministers believe there is a serious cost dimension at issue, and that it is essential to join in common cause and endeavour with Health Ministers. That is the purpose of this joint Ministerial Meeting.

Economic costs of NCDs

5.       The high level of NCDs occurrence in the region is alarming enough in effect and implications for the health of Pacific populations. But it is also taking a heavy toll on the economies and finances of Pacific countries.  In significant ways the consequences of NCDs are impacting negatively and adversely on prospects for progress towards achieving sustainable economic growth and development across the region.

6.       Given the tight fiscal conditions among Pacific Island Countries and Territories, it is self evident that governments must prioritise financial resources and use them more effectively and efficiently. This includes the way in which we address the high rates of NCD incidence and related deaths in this region. Governments must engage all stakeholders, private sector and communities at all levels and they, in turn, must engage and support Government efforts.

7.       The response to NCDs is necessarily a national effort; and in the broader context a regional, indeed, a cooperative global effort. It raises issues of shared responsibility and endeavour, with the support of all appropriate and related sectors. In that sense, this joint meeting of Economic and Health Ministers is most timely and essential, for I believe it is a most worthy initiative with prospect to contribute towards determining integrated effective mechanisms for the most ambitious action that is needed against NCDs and, with hope, in controlling these diseases in the region.

8.       As it is, Pacific Health Ministries are spending significant amounts of their budgets on addressing NCDs. Necessarily this impacts on the limited financial resources that governments have for development purposes, noting that in this region some Governments are spending up to 16% on the health budget and noting also that the bulk of Health Ministries’ funds tend to originate from the public purse - as well, of course, as support from development partners.

9.       Labour supply, productivity, investment and education can be undermined particularly with regular illness, disabilities and early deaths. The World Bank study as we know has revealed the possible loss of economic production estimated at US$84 billion for the region as a result of NCDs particularly heart disease, stroke and diabetes, between 2006 and 2015, if action is not taken to address this issue. That study also highlighted that of 12 Pacific Island Countries, NCDs are the main cause of death, representing some 75 percent or more of total recorded deaths.  As the Prime Minister has said, this is simply unacceptable.

10.     NCDs impose not only economic costs, but also social costs, as sick and disabled family members have to be cared for. Premature deaths can leave surviving members of the family experiencing further hardship and poverty. With the low levels of income that particular households earn, the impact of NCDs can be punishingly severe.

NCDs roadmap

11.     The development of the NCD Roadmap for the Pacific Island Countries and Territories is most timely and links to international efforts to tackle NCDs through the NCD global action plan 2013-2020. The Roadmap sets out concrete actions to strengthen NCD prevention and control in the Pacific region proposing the adoption of key strategies to target the consumption of products that contribute to NCDs. The Roadmap also acknowledges the importance of primary and secondary prevention of NCDs as a more efficient use of scare resources. These key strategies are supported by a menu of interventions for countries’ consideration and adoption dependent on individual country circumstances.

12.     As with other strategies, monitoring of the implementation of the Pacific NCD Roadmap is critical in assessing progress and ensuring that support from relevant regional agencies and development partners are focused; and that such support responds effectively to Pacific needs. In this context, let me acknowledge the support provided by the Quintilateral Partners in Health towards the development of the NCD Roadmap.

13.     Honourable Ministers, your role in supporting the review, development and implementation of relevant laws and regulations, policies and strategies is crucial as the region takes a united step towards combating NCDs. It will require determination and political will, but the alternative of a business as usual approach will cost far more, not just in the long run, but now, and in the immediate future.

14.     It is important that collaborative efforts by Health, Finance and relevant government ministries are strengthened, reflecting stronger efforts by governments to significantly reduce the prevalence of NCDs in all Pacific countries.

15.     In summary, let me say that this much welcomed joint meeting among senior Pacific Ministers of Economic Affairs and Health represent a powerful message to governments, all sectors, regional agencies and development partners of the need to work cooperatively and determinedly towards preventing and curbing the occurrence of NCDs in the region. Such efforts cannot be compromised by other priorities. I believe combined efforts addressing this already debilitating epidemic will go a long way in improving the health of the people of this region as well as achieving sustainable economic growth and development.

16.     I want to thank my colleague and fellow Executive Dr Colin Tukuitonga, and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, as I do Dr Shin Young-soo and the World Health Organisation, for working with the Forum Secretariat in making arrangements for this joint meeting. We very much look forward in joining hands with them in implementing the Roadmap. May I encourage our development partners to strengthen support towards combating NCDs and continue to work in collaboration with relevant regional agencies and Pacific Island Countries and Territories in acting on the priority areas highlighted in the NCD Roadmap.

17.     Mr Prime Minister, may I thank you again for your personal support and leadership on this very serious challenge to Pacific countries and to our region.

18.     Honourable Ministers and Heads of delegation, I wish you all a successful meeting.

 

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