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Pacific News Minute: Fiji Struggles To Move From Treatment To Prevention Of Diabetes

Staff Sgt. Chelsea Browning
U.S. Air Force

Obesity is a major problem around the Asia Pacific, contributing to diseases like diabetes. In Fiji, diabetes related amputations account for 40% of all surgeries. On average, that’s three every day.

An estimated 60,000 Fijians have diabetes, and as many as half don’t know it. Doctor Eddie McCaig, Professor of surgery at Fiji’s National University, told RNZ Pacific that many people ignore early signs like thirst and excessive urination. And, by the time they do see a doctor, it’s too late.

“We have no option but to cut the limb off,” he said.

In addition, diabetes leads to eye surgery for cataracts and retinopathy, and to kidney problems that require dialysis.

“About 900 cases each year,” Dr. McCaig said. “And in Fiji, that’s very expensive, about 35 million dollars on the kidney alone. We’re doing a good job. But we can’t afford to do it.”

While it’s obviously important to treat diabetes, Dr. McCaig said he would like to see the government fund diabetes awareness and prevention. He emphasized good nutrition – “people must know what to eat, how to eat,” he said – maintaining a healthy weight, and exercise.

“We have a great rugby team that runs around the field, “Dr. McCaig said, “But as soon as they reach 30, they all swell up.”

Part of the problem in Fiji and elsewhere, is sugary drinks.

Last year, the Coca-Cola factory in Laucala installed new technology that tripled capacity to 21,000 bottles per hour. Isimeli Tukana, the Health Ministry’s national advisor for non-communicable diseases said, “As we try to reduce advertisement of unhealthy food and unhealthy drinks for children, our biggest barrier and our fight is with these big industries.”

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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