UNGA78: People-centred health, fighting chronic diseases a priority for Samoa – PM Fiame Mata’afa to 78th UN General Assembly

Fiamē Naomi Mata'afa, Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Independent State of Samoa, addresses the general debate of the General Assembly’s seventy-eighth session.



(Saturday 23 September 2023)

Mr President,
Distinguished delegates,

Samoa extends congratulations and best wishes to His Excellency, Mr. Dennis
Francis on the assumption of the Presidency of the 78th Session of the General
Assembly. We are delighted to see Trinidad and Tobago, a sister small island
developing state, at the helm of our organization for the next twelve months.
You have Samoa’s full support in the successful execution of your mandate.
It is an honour to address this Assembly on behalf of the Government and
people of Samoa. We remain steadfast in our support of this multilateral
institution and recognize that international cooperation is essential to fight for
a just, more sustainable, and peaceful future for our people and planet.
Whilst many global challenges remain, it is our hope that in the spirit of global
solidarity and unity, we can address with urgency the threats of the climate
crisis; the accelerated loss of biodiversity; the erosion of human rights and
human health, worsening conflicts; the abuse of information and new
technologies and garnering the political will to strengthen our collectivism
towards sustainable development.
The theme for this year’s General Assembly, speaks to our priorities and helps
to frame our continued engagement with our United Nations family.

The effects of climate change are etching a deepening and more devastating
impact on our lives. The first half of 2023 was characterized by record
temperatures in many regions of the world, intense-water temperatures in
various ocean basins, droughts in parts of Africa, Europe and Asia, severe
flooding as well as cyclones and devastating wildfires in Greece, northeastern
Canada, and Hawaii decimating lives and livelihoods to ash and barren
I extend Samoa’s deep condolences to the people of Lahaina Maui, families
and friends who have been lost in one of the worst wildfires to have ever
affected a Pacific Island community. Indeed, our sympathies go out to all
those affected by these devastating disasters.
But our sympathies will only take us so far, and we will continually face these
ever-worsening disasters if we continue to deny addressing their root causes.
Scientists have warned of imminent; more frequent and many more extreme
weather events, resulting in more lives lost and costlier, less resilient

June 2023 is remembered for the warmest ever recorded global average
temperatures up by more than 1.2°C compared to pre-industrial levels. Efforts
to reduce global emissions such as investing in clean and affordable energy;
moving towards green resilient economies; tackling deforestation; reducing
the reliance on fossil fuels and protecting nature must be everyone’s priority
for the sake of humanity. Targeted solutions must be complemented by
ensuring climate finance for frontline countries and utilizing the best available
science and technology.
Our expectations for the upcoming COP28 in the UAE include crystallized
commitments to bring about our envisioned ‘reality. In particular, we wish to
highlight the importance of operationalizing the Loss and Damage Fund as
quickly as possible. For all AOSIS members, maintaining global temperatures
below 1.5 degrees C is a point of no return. Crossing this threshold spells the
end of many of our island societies.
We view the climate crisis as an intersecting one, causing damage to the wider
environment such as the biodiversity that forms the web of life we depend
on, for our livelihoods and economic growth. More than 1 billion people
rely on forests for their livelihoods and land and the ocean absorb more than
half of all carbon emissions.
The climate problem is worsening as the world’s natural carbon sinks such as
our oceans and rainforests cease to spawn life. Samoa as a core member of
the SIDS Coalition for Nature, joins the crescendo of voices for the better
protection of our biodiversity.

The ocean is a vital resource for food and livelihoods and hence requires
responsible stewardship that is integral in maintaining our Pacific identity, as
the ocean is in us and we are the ocean. A healthy ocean will help in our fight
against climate change.
As the Blue Pacific continent, we must ensure that our oceans can still provide
for us as we sustainably manage our marine resources, ecosystems and
biodiversity. We urge our member states to assist in combating illegal,
unreported and unregulated fishing in our region which deprives our small
island developing states of much needed revenue in a time of increased fiscal
We believe in the interconnectedness of our responsibilities to our people and
planet as reflected in the collective stewardship of our ocean and the goodwill
that resulted in the adoption of the new treaty protecting biodiversity on the
high seas. This is an important milestone in the path to sustainably managing
the high seas and our oceans resources. Let us all sign the treaty for a timely
Similarly, we are engaged in the ongoing negotiations on a treaty to end plastic
pollution. The need to address the global plastic pollution problem, especially
in the marine environment, is a priority as this is a threat to our ecosystems
and health.

Non-communicable diseases are a priority area for Samoa and our blue Pacific
continent. Currently, chronic NCDs are overtaking communicable diseases as
the dominant health problem, and are the leading causes of mortality,
morbidity and disability. At the national level – NCDs account for almost
half of the deaths; premature deaths in fact, in Samoa. We have one of the
highest obesity rates, particularly among children. Current data however
shows some positive trends in the falling prevalence rates of alcohol drinkers
and smokers and an increase in the prevalence of people who are physically
active. These statistics are a catalyst for programs to promote healthier
The Government of Samoa has made people-centered health services and
NCD control a priority in its Pathway for the development of Samoa 2019-
2025 and has also issued the National NCD Policy 2019-2023.
With support from its development partners, the Samoa government
launched a comprehensive program in May 2020, with the aim to build
people centered and systematic NCD service provision to strengthen primary
health care, empower communities promote early detection and effective
referral of NCDs and increase population awareness of NCD risk factors.
Samoa remains committed to the global fight against NCDs through scaled up
capacity building of all stakeholders, quality assured data collection and
statistics for informed and forward-looking policy decisions as well as strategic
partnerships to mobilize resources and support.
To help address the rising burden of non-Communicable diseases, we believe
that access to a balanced and nutritional diet is a national priority. It is
important to return to locally produced quality fresh foods with less reliance
on processed imported foods. Nutrition and exercise in combination with
other lifestyle changes will do more to curb NCDs but these efforts must be
enhanced by financial support for advocacy and capacity building of our
health and education professionals.
We learned from the COVID pandemic experience that in the event of a
global crisis, supply chain issues will disproportionately affect Small Island
States in favour of larger markets. We targeted measures to enable self reliance in terms of food production and responsible consumption and the
promotion of local food systems. In this area we relied on support from our
partner agencies such as the FAO particularly in the promotion of
transformative food systems.

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) face a unique set of vulnerabilities which
impede their ability to achieve sustainable development. Most SIDS including
Samoa face high indebtedness which is compounded every time there is
rebuilding after a natural disaster. And we know that natural disasters will
increase in frequency and severity as long as climate change remains
A multi-dimensional vulnerability index therefore will allow for the inclusion
of more than just income-based criteria to assess eligibility for concessional
finance. We are appreciative of the fact that the MVI is a tool that aims to
create a richer lens on vulnerability and as SIDS we look forward to early
endorsement and implementation of the MVI.

We believe that there are a great many opportunities which arise from an
increasingly digitized world, especially in connecting our people in remote
areas. We do need to take better care of our citizens from the very real threats
from cyber fraud and cyber-attacks. We need assistance in ensuring that our
infrastructure and financial institutions are safeguarded against cyber threats
and that we can build our capacity to address and combat these threats. In
this regard we are mindful of the ongoing work of the “Open-ended Working
Group on security of and in the use of information and communications
technologies” (2021-2025) which will report to the Assembly in 2025.
We remain concerned that the war in Ukraine is still ongoing with no
resolution in sight. We hope for a future of world peace, free from conflict,
high-tech cyber and electronic crimes, social media abuse and online child
sexual exploitation, and threats of terrorism in any form. For a small island
developing nation like Samoa, we rely on the collective responsibility of the
global community to achieve this through international cooperation,
compliance with international law, diplomacy and with the UN Charter as
our guide.

We live in a highly contested region that is attracting intensified geostrategic
interest. For small island countries in the Pacific like Samoa, security is more
than geostrategic power. An expanded definition of security for the region
reflects our desire to nuance our priorities and the demand for climate resilient
and environmentally conscious infrastructure rather than simply viewing them
through a lens of strategic competition. In this way can we ensure living in
peace. As a small nation with no military force, we continue to highlight the
importance of multilateral platforms and the UN in conflict resolution and
We believe in the rule of law, and we hope that respect for this principle
guides us through the types of conflicts we see today. International
cooperation is needed now more than ever. Building resilience at the national
level can only take us so far. Samoa is confident that despite all the challenges,
even existential threats for some of us; there is still hope if there is unity
amongst our UN family. We have a moral obligation to change our world for
the better and leave hope for our future generations.
In closing, let me reaffirm Samoa’s commitment to the United Nations and
our conviction that it remains the foremost forum to address all issues that
transcend national boundaries. We reiterate our call to the United Nations
through its multiplicity of agencies to better understand our unique cultures,
respect our diversity and embrace our differences to help build the future we
want through mutual and sustainable partnerships. — ENDS


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