In Fiji, diabetes is very common and the numbers continue to grow. Type 2 diabetes mellitus, which is common in Fiji, is a major mortality cause across the world. In 2022, the Fiji Bureau of Statistics reported the population number at 884,887 and according to the Fiji Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MoHMS), one in every three Fijians is diagnosed with diabetes, equating to 30% of the population. Moreover, the health care sector in Fiji suffers from underfunding—health care spending ranks lowest among all Pacific Island countries. In 2020, Fijian expenditure on health care goods and services dropped by 18.39% to $186, down from $228 in 2019. Underfunded health care contributes to the prevalence of diabetes in Fiji as a lack of access to quality health care services and professionals means the early signs of a person developing diabetes in the future are missed.
As of 2019, 24.1% of Fiji’s population lives on or below the national poverty line, as per the World Bank. Impoverished families often resort to purchasing inexpensive but unhealthy and non-nutritious foods. While the typical Fijian meal includes fresh fish, seaweed, shellfish and crustaceans, due to high prices, many Fijians can only afford processed foods. In June 2020, the International Diabetes Federation estimated that it costs the Fijian government up to $24.4 million a year to respond to diabetes. These high costs mean less funding for social programs to improve the lives of those living in poverty.
Diabetes Fiji, previously called the National Diabetes Foundation in Fiji, originated in 1981. It became Diabetes Fiji in July 2012. Its overall goal is to encourage policymakers to help create proactive environments for controlling diabetes, empowering people with diabetes with the knowledge to understand the risks of unmanaged diabetes and the resources to treat the condition. The organization also looks to strengthen the health care system so that health care centers can provide affordable and sustainable services to people diagnosed with diabetes.
Telemedicine Help Line
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, lockdowns, disruptions in the supply chain and redirection of resources and funding resulted in hindered access to medication, resources, services and other aids for managing conditions among people with diabetes. With support from other organizations, Diabetes Fiji established the Telemedicine Help Line to ensure uninterrupted care for individuals with chronic ailments, including diabetes. Alongside providing advice, guidance and referrals, the group of organizations responsible for initiating the helpline facilitated the delivery of essential medication to the residents of individuals who couldn’t travel due to lockdowns or isolation.
The Alliance for Healthy Living
Diabetes Fiji, the Consumer Council of Fiji and the National Food and Nutrition Centre have collaborated to establish the Alliance for Healthy Living. This coalition aims to promote healthier beverage options through Sugar-Sweetened Beverages workshops, which the Core Group organizes. The alliance also takes measures to limit the accessibility of sugary and nutrient-deficient foods to children in sports and recreational facilities. By ceasing sponsorships and advertisements, the coalition seeks to challenge the prevailing corporate culture and diminish the consumption of sugar.
Since its establishment, Diabetes Fiji has participated in the production of a set of comprehensive Diabetes Management Guidelines for Fiji to help reduce the number of diabetes cases.
In the face of growing diabetes rates and health care challenges in Fiji, organizations like Diabetes Fiji are leading the way toward positive change. Efforts such as the Telemedicine Help Line have provided crucial care to individuals with chronic conditions, ensuring uninterrupted access to medication and support, even during the pandemic. Collaborative initiatives like the Alliance for Healthy Living are addressing the root causes of diabetes through workshops and advocacy, promoting healthier options and challenging prevailing norms. Despite the obstacles, these concerted efforts offer hope for a healthier future for the Fijian population.
– Abigail DiCarlo