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Pageant contestants offer ways to combat NCDs

To combat the rise in Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), in the Pacific, the contestants of the 2012 McDonald’s Miss South Pacific Pageant all agreed that residents of the region need to maintain “healthy living lifestyle choices” such as eating healthy and exercising.

During a news conference Monday at Sadie’s by the Sea, the news media pointed out to the contestants that the Pacific islands medical authorities have declared NCD’s “an epidemic” with latest statistics showing that 80% of deaths in the Pacific are from NCDs such as diabetes and cancer.

And, if crowned Miss  South Pacific, the contestants were asked how each of them would help combat NCDs.


“We have one hospital, one doctor and a few nurses” and the majority are nurse aides from Tokelau,” said Peki Teata,

She said Tokelau needs to bring in more qualified and educated doctors and skilled nurses, adding that a majority of the elders in Tokelau have diabetes, which is the number one NCD in her homeland.

She says more education dealing with NCDs is needed in Tokelau as well as the Pacific region.


Drue Slatter believes that “we are not ready to tackle NCDs as individual countries. I would like to see that a regional task force” be established to address this issue” and that “would be a good initiative, in a regional level.”

At a national level in Fiji, “the state is doing its job fairly well, with the new budget allocating more funds for the health sector,” she said, and pointed out that Fiji’s Ministry of Health has moved from an “illness approach... to a wellness based approach.”

“It’s not so much about the disease and going to the doctor, it’s knowing how to prevent it from the beginning,” she said.

Aside from efforts at the national and regional levels, she told the audience that “as a potential candidate” for Miss South Pacific, she — as an individual — will promote the aspect for islanders in the region to “live well... show that individual wellness is as important as education, is as important as economic progress.”

“In trying to achieve these things, the health of the people should be the utmost priority,” she added.


“NCDs are not just a problem in the Pacific, it’s a worldwide issue. This is caused by our change in diet. We’re relying more on imported processed food and not our traditional foods. Traditionally, we didn’t have these illnesses back in the days of our ancestors,” said Kate Ngatokorua.

She agrees with Miss Fiji in setting an example for others, saying that the best way for an individual to make a difference [is] to eat right, to exercise more”, showing someone else “that it is possible to be healthy.”

She revealed that in the Cook Islands, the government is pushing exercise programs. “We have what we call the ‘vaevae challenge’ which is set out in government sectors and this is to see which government sector can take the most steps in groups,” she explained. So it becomes like a challenge to our people.”

And if with many Pacific people getting into the modern age of technology, they are “a little lazier, so we need to push them that exercise is an important fact of our being and diet is important also.”

“And we need to go back to our land and our sea, for we are people of our land and our sea and we must use the resources that God has given us,” she added.


Joy Saleapaga pointed out that there is diabetes in her family.

She agreed with the other contestants on the need to promote prevention and raise awareness with the communities. She also says modern day technology can be used to raise awareness in other island communities.

“As ambassadors of our own countries — and if I become Miss South Pacific — I think it’s very important to bring out these issues to these small island countries for them to understand, that we don’t want to wait for it to happen to them,” she said. “You want to hit it before it starts. You want to get it to them before the diabetes kicks in. Make them aware that it can be prevented.

“I think being healthy is very important in the South Pacific especially in countries where their culture is slowly dying. It’s important for all of us to be healthy, that way our culture lives on and can show it as we grow older,” she said and supports the call to eat right and exercise.


Ebony Nuku said the “potential influence and empowerment” of any of the contestants becoming Miss South Pacific “is greater than what we actually recognize or grasp at this point” because the winning contestant - as an individual - can influence others to take care of them selves as well as promote healthy living.

“It isn’t just about me personally, being healthy, eating healthy and exercising, but it is about getting out there in the community. It’s about, going out, joining the community participating in sports and other events, so that people can actually see you, they can actually hear your voice, hear you speak” about these issues, she said.

It’s one thing when health officials are out in the community but it’s another when the community “see you” taking part in promoting healthy living and its  “totally a different thing,” she said.


Echoing statements by other contestants, Rugby-Anne Laufa said she believes that combating NCDs “starts with preventative measures. It also starts from home.” In her country, “we’re very actively involved in youth empowerment and promotion of healthy living, which is not just something you do overnight — it is a life style. It is a way of life,” she said.

She said the Pacific islands are blessed with freshly grown produce, fresh vegetables and fresh fruits — which can be considered “our ‘Treasurers of the Pacific’.”

Laufa suggested an education program that would start from home, go into the schools and in the communities “to encourage our youth and our people in general to make healthy living choices.”

“It is a ripple effect, when you make those life choices it’s good for your families, communities and your nation,” she added.


Just hearing the data on NCDs in the region, “is really alarming, it’s really sad for me,” said Marlena Martin, who also said that in New Zealand, diabetes and obesity “are huge problems.”

As to what she will do as an individual to combat NCDs, she said, “get my family together and encourage them, to come and join me in making healthy choices... not just for ourselves but our future. It’s about preserving our culture and preserving our people and that’s most important.”

On the national level, she “believes in creating awareness programs that encourage... our Pacific people in terms of making healthy living lifestyle choices”.


“We Pacific islanders... love our food. Sadly, too much of a good thing... may be a bad thing,” said Stephanie Prince, whose birthday is today, when she turns 22 years old.

If crowned Miss South Pacific, “I would work closely with Health ministries [of the Pacific] to shed more light on prevention... as prevention is better than cure.” she said. “In working with the health ministries, we can go into communities to spread the word on diabetes and reduce this problem.”

“Healthy eating and growing your own food that we eat is a big thing in the Pacific. But sadly we buy the food that we eat” and purchase foods that are not healthy, she said and called for the Pacific islands to return to the traditional way of “growing our own food”.


“One way that I can promote healthy living, is getting involved with community first at your own level,” declared Arrielle Maloata. “For example, as Miss American Samoa, I would come out to... zumba and all the other fun exercises.”

“It shouldn’t take a death sentence for you to realize that you need to be healthy,” she said.

“And if you’re already born in a family, with generations that have diabetes or breast cancer, it’s something that you already have knowledge of. This gives you an opportunity to go to local hospitals, clinics for a check up,” she said and noted that there’s “always programs in your community or your country to help the community prevent these types of illness but the people never reach out because there is nobody giving them that extra push.”

If crowned, she would encourage people to “come join me in... zumba, martial arts... playing basketball at the gym.”. Additionally, it’s “all about reaching out instead of just speaking... out.”


“The true essence of the South Pacific, is the beauty of its people. It is us. So I believe it is crucial to be your best self. And by doing so, you need to have an active life style and a healthy diet and this is what we need to be aware of,” said Janine Tuivaiti.

She also supports the other contestants call for a healthy living and a healthy lifestyle to combat NCDs in the Pacific. She said that in Samoa, every day at 5 p.m. after work, “we’re able to get together and do zumba.”

“So this is something that we’re able to promote in our community... that you must get healthy for this is something that is important... to us as Pacific Islanders, as we are all aware of our own diets,” she added.

(In tomorrow’s edition, is the third media question given to the contestants, on what they consider fun for themselves.)