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Life Expectancy in Tonga
Tonga is a country located in the South Pacific Ocean, within the South Pacific archipelago. The sovereign state consists of a total of 176 islands that spread across 270,000 square miles, 36 of which contain a fast-growing population of 100,651 people. About 70% of the 100,651 people live on the main island, Tongatapu. While life expectancy is on the rise throughout the country, there are still many health concerns. Here are 10 facts about life expectancy in Tonga.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Tonga

  1. Life expectancy rates in Tonga have been steadily rising for the past 70 years. In 1950, the average life expectancy was 55.78 years. Today, the life expectancy is 70.97 years. As of 2018, male life expectancy was 68.9, and female life expectancy was 72.8. This is most likely due to improvements in sanitation, housing and education. According to the U.N.’s projections, Tonga’s life expectancy will continue to increase and grow to 74.30 by 2050.
  2. The leading cause of death for all ages in Tonga is non-communicable diseases (NCDs). According to the Tongan Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization (WHO), NCDs account for the majority of deaths in Tonga. These include cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory diseases, diabetes and more. Factors such as lack of physical activity, smoking daily, alcohol use, obesity, high blood pressure and eating less than five servings of fruit and vegetables per day increase the risk of developing NCDs. Of the population, 60.7% is at high risk of developing or having an NCD and 39.2% at moderate risk. One study even found that one out of every ten hospital patients in Tonga was admitted due to an NCD.
  3. The NCD that kills most people in the country is coronary heart disease. The latest data from 2017 reports that of every 100,000 Tongans, 128.72 (16.64% of the population) die from coronary heart disease.
  4. Tonga’s fertility rate has been decreasing since the 1950s. However, despite the steady decrease, Tonga’s fertility rate remains high compared to other countries. In 1955, the fertility rate in Tonga was 7.3 births per woman. Today, it is currently at 3.2 births per woman. In comparison, in Australia, there were 3.0 births per woman in 1950 but only 1.86 births per woman in 2015.
  5. Obesity is extremely prevalent among Tonga’s population. An important risk factor to NCDs, obesity has been increasing in Tonga since 1975. In 1975, 47.8% of people 18 and older were obese. In 2016, the obesity rate had jumped to 75.6%. This year, Tonga ranks number two in the world for the highest body mass index (BMI) with its population having an average BMI of 31.9. Tonga falls just below the world’s most obese country, Nauru, which has a BMI of 32.5. Tonga’s obesity rate is due to a couple of factors, including low levels of physical activity and poor diets.
  6. The diet of Tongans plays an important role in the level of obesity throughout the country. Most Tongan’s diets once consisted of root vegetables, coconuts and fish. Since joining the global economy, diets have become highly processed and fatty. The average diet is now made up of rice, bread, canned fish, sugar, salt and packaged noodles.
  7. Tobacco use, another risk factor for NCDs, has been slowly decreasing in Tonga. In 2000, 36.3% of the population used tobacco. The most recently projected smoking rate puts tobacco use at 27.9%.
  8. Health-related issues make up most of Tonga’s other top causes of death. Other top causes of death in Tonga include diabetes (13.63%), stroke (9.91%), influenza and pneumonia (7.26%), breast cancer (2.83%) and lung disease (4.60%).
  9. More people have slowly moved into Tonga’s urban areas in recent years. In 1955, the urban population was at just 15%, while today the percentage has risen to 76%. This urbanization results in a more sedentary lifestyle, which, in turn, becomes a risk factor for developing obesity.
  10. Tonga is the first country in the Pacific Islands to develop a plan to fight obesity. In 2017, the Tongan government implemented a tax on imported foods in hopes of discouraging people from purchasing them. The tax included items such as mutton flaps, industrial chicken and turkey tails. There are also groups such as Tonga Health Promotion Foundation (TongaHealth) that fight obesity in hopes of improving life expectancy. TongaHealth was established in 2007 by the Health Promotion Foundation Act. Dedicated to the prevention of NCDs in Tonga, the group recognizes the urgency in the country’s rising number of NCDs. It fights the risks by focusing on educating the population on topics such as healthy eating, physical activity, tobacco control and alcohol control.

While life expectancy rates are on the rise in Tonga, there is still work to be done to improve the health of Tongans and further increase life expectancy. Tobacco use, alcohol use, a lack of physical activity and poor diet are all putting Tongans at risk for obesity and NCDs. Moving forward, the government and other humanitarian organizations must focus their efforts on improving health and life expectancy in Tonga.

– Marlee Septak
Photo: Flickr

Facts About Education in Tonga

The Kingdom of Tonga is located in the Pacific Ocean and has a population of approximately 109,008. Despite its small size, the country has made continuous improvements to its educational system. Keep reading to learn the top eight facts about education in Tonga.

8 Facts About Education in Tonga

  1. A Colonial Past – The school system that currently exists in Tonga was first established by Wesleyan missionaries in 1826. The primary language of the country is Tongan, a dialect of Polynesian, but English is also spoken as a secondary language and is taught as such in schools.
  2. Compulsory Education – Since 1876, the first eight years of education in Tonga has been compulsory for all Tongan children beginning at age 6. Tonga has divided its education system to include six years at the primary level, three at the junior and three at the senior secondary level.
  3. Free Education – Primary and secondary schools for students from ages 6 to 14 attend government-sponsored schools for free.  In 2004, 3.91 percent of Tonga’s GDP was allotted to spending on education in Tonga. This is a decrease from 5.59 percent in 1998.
  4. High Literacy Rates – The efforts of the Tongan government to create a strong base of literacy within the country has been widely successful. In 1996, the adult literacy rate of Tonga was 98.5 percent. That number has now risen to 99.0 percent in 2018, making Tonga one of the leaders of adult literacy of the nations in the Pacific.
  5. Girls’ Education – In 2015, girls were enrolled at higher rates than boys at all three levels of education. Enrollment in primary school was at 94 percent for girls and 92 percent for boys in 2015. This number dropped roughly 10 percentage points for each gender going into lower secondary schools.
  6. Ministry of Education – The Ministry of Education works to create and maintain a system of strong education in Tonga. The Ministry manages all of the government schools in the country at all education levels and ensures that the private schools within the country adhere to the national standards of education. There are two main exams that the Ministry of Education administers to all students. The first is the Tonga School Certificate. This exam is taken by students at the end of their fifth year while they are in secondary school. The second major state exam is the Pacific Senior Secondary Certificate, which is taken by students at the end of secondary schooling. Both exams serve as a measure of the thoroughness of a student’s education. The exams are administered in English, though they do emphasize knowledge of Tongan culture.
  7. Brain Drain – Following the conclusion of their secondary school education, many young scholars from Tonga seek their tertiary education abroad at universities in Australia or New Zealand. Upon completion of their degrees at university, most Tongan scholars remain in Australia or New Zealand to live and work and do not return to their homes in Tonga. In 2018, approximately 25 percent of those who furthered their education within Tonga now exist below the poverty line.
  8. Plan for Educational Improvement – Beginning in 2003, Tonga began a project for educational reform that focuses on providing access to a strong education for all Tongans. The Tonga Education Support Program (TESP) has two tiers. TESP I aims to improve equitable access to education up to Year 8, to improve education past primary school and to improve the administration of Tongan schools. TESP II aims to maximize the amount of learning that students can find within Tongan schools, to increase the teaching abilities of teachers and to improve educational facilities. The Tongan government has received financial contributions from Australia and New Zealand to do so.

Anne Pietrow
Photo: Flickr

Help People in Tonga

There are many ways to help people in Tonga thanks to the wide variety of organizations taking action and accepting donations from the public.

Here are a few of the organizations that are making changes and contributing to the well-being of citizens in Tonga.

  1. One of Tonga’s biggest struggles is its high threat for experiencing natural disasters. The Australian Red Cross works with the Tonga Red Cross to help provide relief to disaster victims who live in Tonga.
  2. A Catholic agency in New Zealand by the name of Caritas works with Tonga to help citizens adjust to the effects of climate change. Caritas also supports a Caritas Tonga Climate Change Officer by the name of Amelia Ma’afu, whose area of focus is on the island of Ha’apai. As a Climate Change Officer, her responsibilities include conducting training sessions to raise climate change awareness, researching information to build a plan of action to help citizens deal with climate change and visiting communities to talk to inhabitants and gather data.
  3. The World Bank is not only helping the people in Tonga with the aftermath of former disasters, but it is also working to protect the future of the community. The World Bank has helped Tonga by assisting the government with building cyclone-proofed homes on safer areas of land. Supporting The World Bank is a great way to help people in Tonga.
  4. The Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA) volunteers are helping in Tonga by working to bring more variety in employment and help ensure citizens have a dependable income. Tonga supports itself with agriculture, exporting products such vanilla, kava and coconut. Volunteers through VSA are helping make sure that Tonga’s agricultural department thrives.
  5. The Asian Development Bank/Japan Scholarship Program (JSP), offers scholarships to people in Tonga. This creates opportunities for many young citizens in Tonga – those who are 35 years old or younger, of good health and hold a bachelor’s degree are eligible to apply for these scholarships.

By donating and volunteering with organizations such as these, everyday citizens are able to help people in Tonga, bringing hope and changing lives for the better. Consider taking the time to check into these organizations and make a contribution today.

Noel Mcdavid

Photo: Flickr

Refugees in Tonga
The southern Pacific, Polynesian country of Tonga has become a popular tourist destination over the years for its serenity and beauty. What most people don’t know, however, is the exclusive and tight nature of the country’s natives. Given that its primary economic driver is remittance from Tongans that are working abroad, there isn’t enough capital, nor desire, to sustain refugees in Tonga.

To become more acquainted with the condition of refugees in Tonga, below are 10 facts:

  1. As of 2014, Tonga houses 22 total refugees. This is more than double the number in 2010, which was only six.
  2. Tonga is not interested in providing a home to displaced persons.
  3. The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) requires that Tonga take care of one refugee and his daughter, by derivative status. The country must satisfy this condition to be included in the 1965 Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
  4. The Nationality Act in Tonga states that, in order for a Tongan-born child to be a citizen, their parent must also be of Tongan nationality. If both parents are foreigners, then the child will be stateless.
  5. Tonga has never implemented a law that would compel the country to give asylum or refugee status to any individual.
  6. However, if a person’s life or freedom is threatened, then the country does not force them to leave by deporting them back.
  7. The few migrants that live there have very few political rights and know that they are not very welcome. In fact, Tongan-born kids that have stateless or migrant parents usually have to leave the country at the age of 21. Some can continue to stay if they are able to obtain a passport.
  8. Whether someone receives asylum or not is completely in the hands of the government. The government usually requires the applicant to prove that there is harm in living in their home country.
  9. Ironically, in the past Tongan exiles often fled to Fiji. Now, it is more common for Fiji natives to find refuge in Tonga.
  10. Climate change has impacted Tonga significantly, and many Tongan natives are finding asylum elsewhere in response.

A plethora of refugees in Tonga is not something that is anticipated in the near future. Although it is hoped that Tonga will embrace refugees more readily, it is understandable that it does not want to take on more than it can handle until it can diversify and strengthen its economy.

Tanvi Wattal

Photo: Flickr

This July, Tonga eliminated lymphatic filariasis. Lymphatic filariasis is a mosquito-borne illness that attacks the lymphatic system. The Tonga Ministry of Health used a combination of large-scale treatment to control transmission and disability prevention activities to eliminate lymphatic filariasis.

Lymphatic filariasis is caused by a parasitic infection when filarial parasites are transmitted to humans and can become infectious through the bite of a mosquito. Most lymphatic filariasis cases are asymptomatic. While there are no external signs of infection, the parasites can damage the lymphatic system, kidneys and immune system. Eventually, the disease can become chronic and cause tissue swelling and skin or tissue thickening. This affects the limbs and genitalia.

Chronic infections of lymphatic filariasis cause severe disfigurement, pain and disability. This can cause people to lose their jobs and income. In addition, the social stigma associated with the disfigurement can lead to depression and anxiety.

Lymphatic filariasis has been prevalent in Tonga since the 20th century, and it has taken decades of work to eliminate the disease. In the 1950s the prevalence rate of lymphatic filariasis in Tonga was close to 50 percent. The disease incidence steadily decreased in the 1970s and 1980s as the Ministry of Health administered mass drugs throughout the country. Doctors administered two doses of medicine annually to the at-risk population. This drug reduces the amount of parasite in the bloodstream of an infected person, which prevents the spread of the parasite by mosquitoes. For these drugs to be successful in eliminating a disease they must be administered to the same population every year or four to six years. These treatments reached a coverage ranging between 81 percent and 92 percent.

Tonga’s efforts were so successful due to the continuous and focused work of their Ministry of Health. In addition, there was strong financial support from other donors and partners who contributed drugs and educational resources. Tongan communities also played a significant role in the reduction of the disease; they were willing to take the drugs and work through different treatment programs for disabilities.

The incidence of lymphatic filariasis in Tonga is now less than one percent. Over the last five years, several independent experts analyzed the incidence of the disease through three transmission assessment surveys. Tonga must continue these surveys for the next five to ten years to ensure that the disease is not reintroduced.

Sarah Denning

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in TongaTonga is a group of islands east of Australia and north of New Zealand. Tonga has relatively high rates of education and a productive health care system, however, there is still poverty in Tonga.

As with many countries, the rural people of Tonga tend to be the poorest. Small farmers and fisherman are often the most burdened with poverty, as the contribution of labor is crucial for subsistence, so when there aren’t as many work opportunities the family suffers.

Tonga is made up of several islands, the outermost islands being the the most vulnerable. This vulnerability stems from high transportation costs, which make it difficult for farmers to transport their goods. This provides a larger financial burden and less marketing opportunities. Citizens of the outer islands also do not have access to as many health and social services as they should.

Poverty in Tonga stems from a lack of work opportunities. Work opportunities are limited because the degradation of land over the past couple of decades has made productive land for cultivation scare. Many poor people have emigrated to Australia and New Zealand in search of work opportunities. These outer islands contribute very little to the national economic growth of Tonga.

The economy is very dependent on remittances from overseas donors. In 2015, and estimated 33 percent of Tonga’s GDP was made up of remittances. This dependency has cost Tonga because those remittances have declined, making more citizens financial unsteady.

The number of people living on $1.90 a day was 61.48 percent in 2001, in 2009 it was at 1.09 percent. This shows an incredible amount of improvement orchestrated by the government of Tonga and contributions from the international community. Of course, there is still a wealth disparity throughout the islands based on geography, but poverty in Tonga has diminished significantly throughout the years.

Lucy Voegeli

Photo: Flickr


Poor water quality is a prevalent epidemic in the Polynesian islands of Tonga. Despite the fairly steady supply of water in the islands, sourced from rainwater catchment systems and groundwater, water quality in Tonga needs improvement to prevent potentially deadly waterborne illnesses. The inability to access appropriate sanitation, as well as the cultural absence of hygienic attitudes, led the Tongan government to intervene in community affairs.

A major contributor to poor water quality in Tonga is the lack of any statistical information about water distribution or a centralized sewage system. No data exchange systems have been enforced because much of the country’s water consumption is managed at a communal level, bearing little to no legislative authority. Although Tonga’s Ministry of Health attempted to keep the water supply free from wastewater contamination, the local community remains in control of wastewater due to the culture of the islands.

Another factor that inhibits water quality in Tonga is that the population has grown by 46,000 people in the last decade, according to the Pacific Community. The steady increase of population created greater pressure on how the water supply is managed and treated. It is now more important than ever for Tonga to ensure that the quality of water is acceptable.

Despite the absence of authority regarding water resources, the Tongan government recently enforced the Water Supply Plan. The World Health Organization defines this as “a risk assessment and risk management plan for water supplies that, when implemented, reduces or eliminates the water becoming contaminated by pathogens, chemical or through physical means.” Part of this plan includes educational programs which are also successful in raising cautionary awareness towards water quality and personal sanitation.

The road to improvement for Tongan water quality is optimistic. According to the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, external aid from the EU provided 1.1 million euros to address water security for the Kingdom of Tonga, which is used for innovative technology to make collecting and cleaning water more efficient and secure. However, establishing lasting improvement of the water quality in Tonga is ultimately dependent on members of the community who must comply with the governmental pleas to change.

Mary Hocker

Photo: Flickr


The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the U.N. partnered with Tonga 30 years ago to focus on improving its agricultural policies and practices. The director-general of the FAO commented on the state of hunger in Tonga, saying that although the country is not in a state of distress, it is striving to create a more sustainable agricultural industry.

The FAO, in conjunction with government officials in Tonga, created the Future Farmers of Tonga program, which strives to promote greater youth involvement in agriculture. This program aims to teach young people how to manage a farm and market their agricultural products to the public, especially those living in impoverished areas. The FAO also supports the government-led national Food Security Coordination Cluster, which focuses on creating disaster preparedness plans and crisis response programs for the country.

Tonga has faced a deficiency in its fishing industry over the last several years, according to FAO officials. Fishing plays an important role in Tongan culture but is hurt by the vulnerable marine ecosystems in the area. To combat this problem, the FAO has tried to restore milkfish to the area in order to provide a source of both food and income to the rural areas of the country. The focus is on developing technology, producing better management strategies and improving business marketing, which in turn will improve the conditions to prevent greater issues with hunger in Tonga.

The developments that have been made over the last 30 years have helped decrease the percentage of children who experience stunted growth. According to UNICEF data, as of 2012, less than one percent of children under the age of five are stunted. In Pacific countries as a whole, the rate is two percent. The FAO says that it is still working with Tonga to help the country meet its goals for improvement, which include policy planning, supply chain efficiency, and environment management.

Helen Barker

Photo: Flickr


Education in Tonga is free and compulsory between ages six and 14, and the literacy rate is approximately 99 percent. Roughly 80 percent of all primary schools and 90 percent of secondary schools are run by religious organizations.

Although there are some post-secondary agricultural, medical, nursing and teaching education programs, most young Tongan people pursue their studies overseas. As a result, many young Tongans live in New Zealand and Australia, while 22.5 percent of their peers residing in Tonga live below the poverty line.

Over the last decade Tonga’s Ministry of Education, Women Affairs and Culture has sought educational reform through the Tonga Education Support Program (TESP), which has been segmented into two phases. TESP I addresses three particular areas of improvement identified by the 2003 Tonga Education Sector Study:

  • Improvement of equitable access universal primary education in the first six years of schooling and quality of universal basic education for all children in Tonga.
  • Improvements to the access to and the quality of “post-basic” education and vocational training in hopes of increasing Tonga’s role in the global economy.
  • Improvements to the administration of education and training to facilitate the prior two goals. In particular, this goal calls for cooperation between both government-funded and nongovernment-funded education programs to serve the national interest of education development.

The Ministry also developed TESP II, an adapted form of the Tonga Education Lakalaka 1 Policy Framework, to improve student, teacher and institutional performance rates across all schools.
Australia has contributed AUD $6.5 million to this project, while New Zealand has cosponsored NZD $8.2 million.

Lack of comprehensive reporting has made it difficult to assess whether or not these education development programs have successfully achieved their goals, but from what has been reported, these programs show promise in improving education in Tonga. The Ministry also expects to achieve at least 99 percent access to and participation in formal education programs and 99 percent retention and completion in the coming years.

Casie Wilson

Photo: Flickr

TongaThe Global Partnership for Education reported that if all students in low-income countries left school with basic reading skills, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty. That would amount to a 12 percent cut in global poverty.

In Tonga, the Pacific Early Age Readiness and Learning (PEARL) project is driven towards preparing children for school. Funded by the Global Partnership for Education, and implemented by the World Bank, PEARL has two main goals. The first goal is to support children in developing key skills that will be useful at school. The second goal is helping more children learn to read and write well in their first years of elementary school.

According to the Global Partnership for Education, 40 percent of children in the developing world live in extreme poverty. Around 10.5 million children under the age of five die from preventable diseases each year because of extreme poverty. They also said investments in quality Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) can improve an individual’s well-being and close the education and poverty gap.

Early childhood is defined as the period from birth to eight years of age. Quality ECCE guides children towards fulfilling their potential and promotes social, emotional, physical and cognitive development. Young children who benefit from ECCE services are more likely to be healthy, prepared to learn, stay longer and perform better in school.

Nadia Fifita, Director at Ocean of Light International School in the Tongan capital, Nuku’alofa, said, “We see a big difference in the children who have had some early childhood [education] experience, whether that is formally through a school-based program or informally through parents.”

Tonga is not the only nation benefiting from PEARL. The project is also helping other Pacific Island countries improve policy and programming around school readiness and early grade literacy in Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. In those countries, the World Bank and other partners are supporting each country’s Ministry of Education to make changes strengthening early education.

While early childhood education has increased globally, it is still limited and unequal in developing countries. The Global Partnership reported Sub-Saharan Africa and Arab states have shown the lowest gross enrollment ratios at 18 percent and 21 percent respectively in 2009. In some countries, children from privileged backgrounds are four times more likely to receive pre-primary education than poor children.

Tongan teacher Seini Napa’a said, “My dream is that the students in Tonga have the best future, the best readers and the best writers.”

Kara Buckley

Sources: Global Partnership 1, Global Partnership 2, World Bank
Photo: World Bank