Oceania's Health ChallengesRecent genetic studies of Pacific Islanders are revealing new insights into Oceania’s health challenges. In turn, these insights may drive sustainable solutions that improve community health and save lives.

Convenience-food diets, obesity, lack of resources and the health challenges that result from these conditions are escalating in many island nations in the Pacific. Worse, the resulting non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are leading to an increase in preventable deaths. Activists from many nations are working to better protect many Pacific Island populations from Oceania’s health challenges.


Oceania is a group of countries and territories that share a border with the Pacific Ocean. These 14 countries and territories are diverse culturally, economically, geographically and demographically. Oceania includes the large and wealthy countries of Australia and New Zealand and smaller and less affluent countries including Figi, Tonga and Palau.


Indigenous people in Oceania are more genetically prone to gut issues and certain NCDs that evolved during colonization. While traditionally, Oceania diets were low-energy-density, the introduction of processed foods and more modern snacks brought obesity and linking issues. Before colonization, there was little to no obesity in the Pacific Islands. According to a 2019 study published in Frontiers in Immunology, “During the period of nutritional transition, the people came to consume energy-dense foods imported from Australia and New Zealand.”

The study reports that certain health conditions disproportionately affect specific indigenous populations including the Polynesians in Hawaii, the Maoris in New Zealand, and the Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islanders in Australia compared to non-indigenous people in the same places.  Mortality rates, NCDs and fertility decline are all issues that disproportionately affect these populations. Studying Pacific Islanders’ health data more closely, as this study did, may lead to sustainable solutions.

Environmental factors such as urbanization, sanitation and pathogen exposure also have the potential to increase disease susceptibility. Genetic vulnerability in the form of microbiome genetic mutations and immune function justifies population-specific medical studies and consideration in regards to nutrition. Accessibility and food insecurity have also driven people to foods that are low in nutrition.


There are several specific solutions to combat the sharp rise in NCDs in the Pacific Islands. One strategy is better health monitoring. Current medical data surrounding nutrition is almost nonexistent and therefore Pacific Islander nutrition lacks proper evaluation. Increasing data and enhancing research in this area can better inform people about their eating habits.

The George Institute for Global Health, Fiji National University, Sydney University and Deakin University have created the Global Alliance for Chronic Diseases project. This effort hopes to collect data on preventable deaths and possible food policy initiatives for the future. The researchers already found that decreasing salt intake by one gram a day for a year would prevent heart attacks and strokes and save 131 lives a year.

A second strategy is creating a sustainable interest and consumer demand for fresh and healthy foods.  Since COVID-19, Fiji’s Ministry of Agriculture has distributed seeds for people to grow their own food at home. Additional countries could benefit from a program like this as well.

Other strategies include projects and policies that focus on building a stronger market for healthy foods. Finally, the study suggests applying a gender lens to improve Oceania’s health challenges.  While more women are joining the workforce, they continue to play the primary role in caring for and feeding their families.  They do not have the time to prepare complicated meals so they are turning to convenience foods.

World Bank Showcases Oceania Women Leaders

The 2019 genetic study, others like it and the projects mentioned above are setting a trend of focus on the nutritional health of Pacific Islanders. Sustainable change and progress are occurring throughout Oceania. This progress prompted the World Bank to showcase some inspiring women who are starting to implement solutions to Oceania’s health challenges. In Samoa, Lenara Tupa’i-Fui is the assistant CEO of Health Information Technology and Communications at the Somoa Ministry of Health. She is helping lead the Samoan eHealth system that will better track medical records and provide accessible health monitoring and data. As program director of the Partnership of Human Development in Timor-Leste, Armandian Gusmão Amaral advocates for better health care, especially for women and children. She also focuses on mentoring women to pursue careers in the medical profession.

Looking Ahead

Advocating for better data tracking and health communication, increasing the understanding of and demand for healthy foods and applying a gender lens to improving eating habits are all steps that are helping the vulnerable in Oceania take action on their health.

– Karen Krosky
Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in Fiji
The island nation of Fiji is considered to be one of the most developed economies in the Pacific. The celestial archipelago is rich in resources such as minerals, fishes and forests that contribute to the flourishing economy. Fiji also is home to an array of cultures that add to the unique feel of the country. Despite its level of development, there are still human rights in Fiji that are being violated and that need to be addressed.

Some human rights in Fiji that are not up to par include violence against women and prison overcrowding. Although in comparison to other countries Fiji has higher standards, these issue are still a problem.

Prison overcrowding results in human rights violations due to a lack of sanitation and infrastructure. One prison in particular had 1,423 inmates when the capacity was set at 1,000. This causes problems because there are only so many cells and beds, which leads to prisoners being cramped in small spaces. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for officers to rape detainees, particularly the female ones.

One of the most prominent human rights violations is violence and discrimination against women. Despite stringent domestic violence and rape laws, perpetrators are often not brought to justice. For instance, there is a “no drop” policy for domestic violence cases that states that under no circumstance can the case be put away.

However, many women’s rights organizations have brought light to the fact that the police are not always consistent with this policy. Moreover, courts often either dismiss or give the minimum sentence in these cases even if they go to trial. Cases involving violence against women are often taken very lightly by the courts. Some even release the offender without a conviction on the basis that they do not repeat the crime.

Regardless of the situation, progress has been made to educate and support women, especially in rural areas. There are currently four women’s centers available that offer counseling. Also, 43 percent of women of reproductive age are employing modern contraceptives as of 2015. These contraceptives are offered for free at public hospitals and clinics, increasing their usage.

Although rural areas still have plenty of advancements to make in the upcoming years, Fiji is on the right path towards modernization and equality for women.

Tanvi Wattal

Photo: Flickr

Diseases in Fiji
Many of the diseases in Fiji, a group of volcanic islands in the South Pacific, are preventable. Some are communicable while others are not, but vaccines and hygiene could eliminate many of the risk factors involved in contracting these diseases. Climate change is also creating problems in disease prevention.

The most common communicable diseases in Fiji are as follows:

  • Hepatitis A and B
  • Typhoid
  • Tetanus, pertussis and diphtheria
  • Measles, mumps and rubella
  • Chickenpox
  • Influenza
  • Dengue fever

Child immunization coverage is less likely in developing countries. While developed countries have immunization standards and emergency health procedures, most developing resources still do not have the resources to do so, and vaccinations may be rare or nonexistent. In the developing world, non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and asthma continue to be a problem as well.

Mosquitos help play a role in spreading communicable diseases, particularly in tropical climates. The major common diseases spread by mosquitos are dengue fever and Zika, which remains a risk for pregnant women, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Other factors such as bacteria found in contaminated water, food, and open wounds can lead to a risk of disease.

Climate change continues to increase the risk of common diseases in Fiji. Where public health and health systems are inadequate, populations are more susceptible to facing negative consequences of climate change.

The World Health Organization gathered in 2015 to consider proposals that will support developing countries as they adapt to the effects of climate change and improve health systems to deal with non-communicable diseases while making communicable diseases a priority.

The CDC recommends that travelers be up-to-date on routine vaccinations but also advises hepatitis A and typhoid vaccinations, because contaminated water or food can spread these regardless of where you eat or stay. More people being vaccinated and practicing healthy lifestyles can reduce the risk of spreading communicable diseases and help eliminate non-communicable diseases as well.

Stefanie Podosek

Photo: Flickr

All around the world, there are more than 65 million people seeking refuge and relocation. With so much controversy surrounding the acceptance of refugees, the safety of those who are fleeing harm is at stake. Fiji is welcoming of refugees, and the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) works to ensure that refugees in Fiji will be acknowledged and their concerns heard. Here are nine facts about refugees in Fiji.

9 Facts About Refugees in Fiji

  1. As of June 2, 2017, there are 12 confirmed refugees in the country.
  2. These 12 are left from the original group of 40 that arrived in Fiji in 2006.
  3. People seeking refuge come to Fiji from various countries, including Pakistan and Congo.
  4. Fijian refugees are guaranteed confirmation thanks to something called “a claim for asylum,” which is filed when an individual indicates the want to be acknowledged by the country as a refugee.
  5. A lot of people seeking refuge in Fiji are “climate refugees,” meaning that they are experiencing a sudden change in environment and climate in their country of origin and flee to Fiji for refuge.
  6. Fiji has offered to give refuge to its neighboring citizens of Kiribati and Tuvalu in the event of a disaster.
  7. Fiji is at high risk for climate-induced natural disasters as well. So while Fijian refugees may find solace in their new homes, they may still be at risk of being affected by natural disasters.
  8. The UNHCR covers Fijian refugees by ensuring funding to help protect their refugees.
  9. People seeing refuge do not always permanently reside in the country, seeing as Fiji is typically a temporary holding ground for refugees rather than a permanent residence.

These nine facts about people seeking refuge in Fiji suggest that the country has struggled on its own, but its efforts to make refugees feel accepted and taken care of displays its ability to welcome those seeking shelter with open borders.

Trisha Noel McDavid

Photo: Flickr

Like many developing countries, Fiji falls short on providing basic healthcare to all citizens. Private healthcare is available, but many citizens must use the failing public system, which is superior in urban regions compared to those in rural areas. As a result, more rural residents are faced with prevalent illnesses. Based on a 2012 report by the World Health Organization, the following are the major diseases in Fiji:

  • Ischemic heart disease caused the greatest number of deaths in 2012. It killed 1,300 people and accounted for 21.8 percent of Fijian deaths.
  • Diabetes mellitus was the second leading cause of death, accounting for 16 percent of deaths nationwide and killing a total of 900 Fijians.
  • Stroke was third, killing 500 people, 8.3 percent of deaths.
  • Other killer diseases that are less common include lower respiratory infections like pneumonia and bronchitis, kidney diseases and various cancers.

Although noncommunicable diseases cause the majority of deaths, likely due to their difficulty in treating, Fiji is still home to a number of communicable diseases. Together, these diseases accounted for approximately 18 percent of Fijian deaths in 2008. They include the following:

  • The Zika virus, commonly contracted through mosquito bites, is spreading throughout Fiji, with more and more cases reported. There is no current vaccine.
  • Dengue fever, also contracted through mosquito bites, has recently been declared an outbreak within Fiji. As with Zika, dengue fever does not have a current vaccine.
  • Tuberculosis is widely prevalent, especially to those living in rural areas where pollution is common and medical resources are limited.
  • Other common diseases include Hepatitis A and typhoid.

Through utilizing the aid provided by other nations, Fiji would benefit from taking radical measures to improve public healthcare. In doing so, these major diseases in Fiji could be limited or potentially eradicated with time, advancing the quality of life for the Fijian people.

Gigi DeLorenzo

Photo: Flickr

As of 2016, Fiji, a country in Oceania, consists of more than 300 islands and is home to more than 915,000 people. Hunger in Fiji is one of the nation’s leading problems, posing a threat to the large population. Here are five facts about hunger in Fiji.

Hunger in Fiji

  1. According to Half United, an organization committed to fighting hunger in many countries, more than 250,000 people live in poverty. This number equates to one in every four people struggling to put food on the table.
  2. More than 50 percent of the population has access to safe drinking water, and even fewer have access to adequate sanitation. Conditions have advanced, as more than 95 percent of the total population has reportedly experienced improved drinking water sources and more than 91 percent of the total population has seen improved sanitation facility access.
  3. The strongest tropical cyclone hit Fiji in February 2016, killing 43 people and causing a national emergency. The cyclone resulted in the washing away of crops and left thousands of residents homeless. With such detrimental effects, Cyclone Winston has contributed significantly to hunger in Fiji.
  4. According to a UNICEF report, under-five malnutrition exists as an “indicator of poverty and hunger.” The rate of undernourished children in Fiji has declined from 15 percent in 1980 to six percent in 2009. Reducing the prevalence of under-five malnutrition remains a priority of the government in order to eradicate poverty and hunger in Fiji.
  5. Young girls are nearly twice as likely to be stunted as boys as a consequence of long-term insufficient nutrient intake. Stunting is defined as low height for age and often results in delayed motor development, impaired cognitive function and poor school performance.

Poverty and hunger continue to affect the people of Fiji, but fortunately, organizations such as The World Food Programme (WFP) and Half United provide vulnerable families with the necessary assistance and resources to get back on their feet.

Mikaela Frigillana

Photo: Flickr

Category five super-cyclone Winston made landfall in Fiji on Feb. 22, 2016. With winds of up to 180 mph, Winston was both the strongest cyclone to ever hit Fiji and the strongest cyclone on record to make landfall in the South Pacific archipelago overall. Fortunately, AmeriCares has stepped in to support Fijians in need.

AmeriCares, an emergency response and global health organization based in Stamford, Connecticut, is currently helping Fijians in their recovery and relief efforts. The organization has dispatched an emergency response team of volunteers to provide the medical care and assistance that some inhabitants require. AmeriCares has also prepared approximately 5,000 pounds of medical and relief supplies to deliver to Fiji.

Founder Robert C. Macauley first conceived of AmeriCares during the Vietnam War. In 1975, he and his wife sent an aircraft to Vietnam in order to airlift 300 infant orphans to safety in California. In order to do so, Macauley was forced to take a mortgage out on his house.

Since then, AmeriCares has worked in over 140 countries. These countries include North Korea, where the organization has sent medical supplies since 1997 — and Syria, where $7 million in medical aid has been delivered since 2012.

Approximately 909,389 people inhabit 110 of the 332 islands that compose Fiji. In Cyclone Winston’s wake, 347,000 now find themselves in need of humanitarian aid, of whom 120,000 are children, says UNICEF.

42 Fijians have been confirmed dead and some of the villages within the more remote islands of Fiji are thought to have been completely obliterated by the storm. An article by the Huffington Post reports that 35,000 are currently living in evacuation centers, some of which are running low on supplies.

Two major hospitals were also damaged by the cyclone, according to AmeriCares’ website. AmeriCares’ aid may thus prove an important component in supplementing some of the infrastructural support that was lost in the cyclone.

Jocelyn Lim

Sources: AmeriCares, The Huffington Post, UNICEF, William Grimes

Fijian Exports Seeking New MarketsFor many Pacific Island Countries, a huge factor in their economic survival and competitiveness is their agricultural exports. In Fiji, aid coming in from the European Union, Australia, and New Zealand has significantly helped farmers and other agricultural workers to either maintain or boost their production and business outreach into various markets. Recently, however, there has been a stalemate for the Fiji Export Council (FEC) in making sure this sector that employs 60-70 percent of Fijian is able to reach its full potential.

There are many different types of funding that sometimes go unnoticed by farmers and those in the industry that could make the difference in breaking even or making a profit. These funds can be put towards something as simple as buying new equipment or even helping advertise a company’s products to markets outside of the general PIC area.

Programs have been created over the past two years whose focus has been specifically on working with distributors to bypass certain export regulations that have inhibited them from selling their products in different markets. Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access (PHAMA), funded by the Australian government, helps target specific markets for high-value Fijian goods. Through collaboration with government agencies, PHAMA tries to help in the application process and a basic understanding of the different rules and regulations Fijian companies must by-pass to sell their goods.

Increasing Agricultural Commodity Trade (IACT) is similar to PHAMA in its goal to increase exports, however, it works with other PIC such as the Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, among others.

Having the financial support and involvement of Australia and New Zealand as well as the EU is important to minimize the distance that money and information have to travel to Fiji and other PICs. Eliminating a huge geographical distance allows the Fijian agricultural sector and its various workers to operate faster and have greater transparency.

Although the FEC is focusing on its agricultural sector which employs so many people, it may also be wise to shift some of their energy into revamping their tourism, as this is their second-biggest source of revenue aside from sugar export. For island countries, tourism provides a high number of jobs and has the ability to completely transform the economy; a major revitalization project currently being undertaken by another island country, Haiti.

– Deena Dulgerian

Source: Fiji Times