Tuvalu, formerly known as Ellice Islands, is the fourth-smallest country in the world. The nation consists of nine islands and is home to approximately 11,508 people. In comparison to its size, the country is overpopulated which places a burden on the country’s resources. Despite this obstacle, the country is making massive strides to provide its citizens with accessible healthcare. Here are five facts about healthcare in Tuvalu.
5 Facts About Healthcare in Tuvalu
- Healthcare in Tuvalu is free and government-funded. Tuvaluans are provided with free primary and preventative care, medication and hospital stay. The Ministry of Health also assists citizens who need to be referred from the outer islands to the main island or overseas hospitals for advanced care. The country’s legislation prohibits the operation of private healthcare facilities and pharmacies.
- Tuvalu has one hospital, Princess Margaret Hospital, which is located on the main island of Funafuti. The hospital provides basic primary care, dental and pharmaceutical services. There are two additional healthcare clinics on the main island and eight additional health centers that serve the outer islands. These facilities are staffed with nurses who offer primary and preventative care.
- Although the country has met the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended ratio of 2.5 health professionals per 1,000 citizens, it does not have enough specialized health professionals. Citizens who require advanced medical treatment are referred to overseas hospitals in New Zealand and Fiji to receive assistance.
- Tuvalu has made great strides to reduce neonatal mortality rates. Neonatal mortality rates fell from 21.7 per 1,000 live births in 2008 to 15.7 in 2018. Although the Princess Margaret Hospital is the main center for childbirth, each island healthcare facility is staffed with a trained midwife. Nearly 100% of births take place in a hospital and are attended by a healthcare provider.
- Noncommunicable diseases are on the rise. Cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases and diabetes contributed to 74% of mortalities among Tuvalu citizens in 2008. The country is also facing a “double burden” of undernutrition and obesity. A STEPwise Approach to Noncommunicable Disease Surveillance (STEPS) revealed in a 2015 survey an alarming rise in obesity among adults aged 18-69. Of note, 55.2% were males and 70.7% were female. This rise in obesity can be attributed to risky lifestyle choices such as poor nutrition, physical inactivity and tobacco usage. A survey conducted by the WHO found that 37.3% of Tuvaluan children were stunted in 2017.
Tuvalu’s success in improving healthcare for its citizens should be celebrated. But there is still room for improvement. With the help of the WHO, Tuvalu’s Ministry of Health has developed a strategic plan to control the rise in NCDs and nutrition-related diseases among its citizens. The country is tackling these issues by educating Tuvaluans to make healthier choices, reducing inequality and poverty.
– Jasmine Daniel