Behind the News: Healthcare needs to be given priority

Fiji's Minister for Health and Medical Services Dr Ifereimi Waqainabete pictured with part of his team that have been designated in the Suva area to help in containment efforts of the COVID-19 pandemic. This picture was posted along the Minister's tweet this evening - Thursday, April 02, 2020. Picture: TWITTER/DR IFEREIMI WAQAINABETE

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to expose the glaring gaps in healthcare around the world. In Fiji, the case is the same.

Decisive action is needed to address deficiencies in our healthcare infrastructure and services to effectively meet the demands of the pandemic and the ongoing and new healthcare needs of the future.

There should be an inevitable focus on the right to health and its interconnectedness to our other human rights, for, without the right to health, we cannot enjoy our sacred right to life.

Globalisation and capitalism has allowed us to create and accumulate wealth, and achieve economic growth.

But through poor prioritisation, has influenced the shift to just making profits, degradation of the environment and the exploitation of our natural resources with no regard to future generations.

And as profit-making continues to take centre stage, the powerful few are prioritised at the expense of the vulnerable and poor, and development takes a new turn.

Before COVID-19 struck us, healthcare in Fiji was already a topical issue and a political football.

Many questioned the poor state of our hospitals, the chronic shortage of medicines and the delivery of unsatisfactory medical and health services.

International reports were telling us that Fiji was displacing many other countries on our way up to the top of the world’s non-communicable diseases’ list.

In 2018, news that Fiji had recorded the highest death rate from diabetes sent shock waves across the Pacific and the globe.

Just over a year ago, more than half the estimated 60,000 diabetics in Fiji were reported to have ignored the early signs of diabetes and had put their lives at risk.

At a time when operating theatres in our public hospitals were struggling with long waiting lists, some of our doctors were already conducting eight to 10 diabetes-related surgeries in a day, making up 40 per cent of all hospital operations.

Many of these were for amputation of the limbs, limbs that once held a baby, washed the dishes, ran for Fiji in the Olympics and walked to work so that the family could survive.

These limbs could have escaped the doctor’s scalpel. The case of diabetes in Fiji is so high that it applies strain on the nation’s public purse, eye care and the treatment of kidney diseases.

For many years Government saw the writings on the wall — that over 80 per cent of deaths in Fiji were through NCDs and about 95 per cent of these NCDs were the result of people’s lifestyle choices.

News suggested the gravity of the situation had reached the corridors of Parliament but not enough to demand consistent funding for health promotion and civic education.

The National Diabetes Centre keeps struggling with limited funding and because of this, it inherits the inability to carry out effective public awareness and wellness campaigns.

Many workshop and roundtable recommendations on the need to keep a tab on unfair advertising on children have not seen a bright day. Businesses have been favoured at the expense of human lives that matter.

In the 2020/2021 national budget, the Ministry of Education, Heritage and Arts was allocated $450.6 million, a decrease of $17.1m from the previous year.

In the 2019/2020 budget, the ministry got $467.7m and $535.37m in 2018/2019, an increase of $50.76m. Infrastructure and utilities got over $1 billion.

On the other hand, the Health Ministry received a smaller allocation of $394.3m in the 2020/2021 national budget, an increase of $44.5m from the 2019/2020 budget, which was $349.8m.

In the 2018/19 budget, the allocation for health was $382m. Some may say health probably needs the biggest part of the budget.

The COVID-19 crisis has not only further worsened our overburdened healthcare. It has also exposed the problems that authorities chose to ignore for too long.

The pandemic proves that globalisation and capitalism, despite the gains and the wealth they create, lack preparedness and resilience. We need to put human beings at their core.

This health crisis has demonstrated that our national budget must show sustainable investment and commitment to developing resilient healthcare systems from now on.

Adequate resources and funds need to be invested in health so that it effectively responds to a crisis and is ready during any health emergency we may encounter in the future.

Doing things highlighted above will need the allocation of time, money and human resource for research work geared to achieving our health goals and solving major health problems like the variety of NCDs that has plagued us.

The establishment of the Fiji Centre for Disease Control is a welcome move. It needs to be strengthened and supported further to prevent future health disasters, respond appropriately when they happen, enhance our overall health system and reverse health trends that have afflicted us for years.

While authorities are responding well to Fiji’s COVID-19 pandemic via their provision of contingency resources, it is not sure whether these will be enough if our health system is overwhelmed by a continued increase in positive cases.

Health is a sector that depends heavily on public funding. But the past few weeks show government cannot do things alone. It must encourage
partnerships and collaborative efforts that benefit both citizens and the economy.

The private sector too should play their part in supporting public funding on health.

As of Friday afternoon, Fiji had recorded two locally transmitted COVID-19 deaths and 52 known active cases, including three workers from the CDC.

Citizens living within the Suva-Nausori corridor were bracing for their longest curfew which ends on Wednesday.

As you read this article I’d probably be in a little ghetto of mine under our house reading The Collectors by one of my favourite authors, David Baldacci.

It is my hope that you had put to practice every piece of advice and warning were given to you to help you and your family keep safe and healthy during this lockdown.

Don’t forget to read, watch and listen to the news.

Please stay inside your home and observe COVID-19 protocols by washing your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitiser, wearing a mask every time you are outside your home and making sure you are two metres away from the person next to you.

Remember the coronavirus moves when you move! It is an invisible enemy that kills!

No amount of improvement in the country’s health system and service will help us if we ourselves do not take the first step in keeping healthy and making healthy lifestyle choices.

There are a lot of lessons to learn from this crisis.

Let’s not let them go to waste. Until we meet on this same page at the same time next week, stay blessed, stay healthy and stay safe.

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