NCDs Club … We don’t want your membership; no more a silent killer

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Nausori Market Vendors pictured with some of the Fiji Airways Fiji sevens extended training squad members during the Wellness Outreach Programme at Syria Park in Nausori last year. Picture: FT FILE

IT is called the ‘silent killer’ but for crying out loud, this name for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) leaves me speechless. NCDs are no more silent than O’Rielley’s Bar on a quiet night.

The disease is everywhere: in advertis­ing and the media, in fast food restau­rants, at parties, on the beach, in bars, in hospitals and at funerals.

Junk food, smoking, alcohol and lack of exercise all contribute to NCDs. Obe­sity, hypertension (high blood pressure), heart attack, stroke and diabetes are the outcomes. But it doesn’t end there. These lifestyle diseases come at an enormous cost.

Let me give you an example. When one opts for take-aways, it can be easier than going to the market and buying fresh produce and cooking it at home although it works out a lot cheaper.

Take-aways and junk food are high in salt, saturated fats and oils, carbohy­drates and refined sugar. You’re not doing yourself any favours at all. Furthermore, it is costly in more ways than one.

It is the detrimental effect the wrong foods are having on your body gradually, over a period of time.

You begin to notice the bulges, the rolls, clothes feel tighter around your shoulders and sleeves and become un­comfortable; your ankles might swell, your knee joints are sore at the end of the day; climbing stairs or hills becomes more challenging and you get puffed more easily.

It’s happening! Suddenly you’re a member of the NCDs Club. What was life­style becomes life-threatening.

Membership is costly as what you pay for indirectly is all the health care need­ed to treat the various conditions linked with such a lifestyle that you can expect to have, sooner or later.

You will need blood tests, medication; there will be a need to see a dietician, have an appointment with a cardiologist or an endocrinologist.

Diabetic ulcers will need to be dressed and there might even be the need for an amputation of a limb or two. It will also cost your family members their time and money as who else will move you around. So you can now see why membership is steep.

Patients with diabetes are practically cueing at the National Diabetes Centre. In the dialysis room of the National Kid­ney Foundation one has to practically step over patients, many with kidney failure as a result of their diabetes.

At nightclubs and other places where smoking is permitted one has to pity the non-smokers. Here the air is thick with environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) and the innocent victims inhaling this are more vulnerable to the dangerous effects of second hand tobacco smoke than are the smokers themselves.

I see the country surrendering to NCDs. There is no fight, no attempt at all to overcome this scourge. The Pacific Obesity Prevention in Communities Project Fiji 2004-2009 Country Report carried out by the Fiji School of Medicine and Dea­kin University confirms that NCDs have now replaced infectious and parasitic diseases as the principal cause of mortal­ity and morbility in Fiji (p95).

There clearly is a willingness to ac­cept one’s fate. This is an easier option; a cop-out. It’s the path most trodden and everyone seems to be heading down it. Granted, it is difficult to give-up smok­ing, it is hard work to exercise and how tasty is fried food and French fries?

To eat healthy meals and exercise takes discipline, a strength of spirit and a desire to be healthier and fitter in order to avoid NCDs and ultimately live a long, enjoyable life.

I’m wondering if the message is hitting home at all so I surveyed more than 50 people at a popular food court in Suva. I asked them to tell me, if they could, the meaning of ‘NCDs’. 48 just gave me blank expressions; of the two who knew, one was a nurse with the other being married to one.

Perhaps there’s need for a name change to something such as the one for diabe­tes: ‘mate ni suka’ (death by sugar). How about ‘mate ni bula’, death to life?

In an ideal world one needs to sit down with individuals, families, youth, teach­ers, youth leaders, all leaders and the me­dia and send a strong message that will be culturally acceptable yet hard hitting.

If there is ever a time for a reality check, it is now. If the community does little but nothing to overcome being in­flicted with NCDs then Fijians can enjoy a lot shorter life.

A silent killer it is not. It is loud and in your face. There are two main stumbling blocks as I see it: that of ignorance and an unwillingness to accept reality through denial.

There is also an element of group men­tality existing where for example if the majority in the group are overweight then the majority rules. Fijians on the whole are very accepting of one’s differ­ences.

This factor impacts on the rising in­cidents of NCDs. Logic is replaced by a mindset that that big is beautiful and obese is even more attractive.

I spoke with Dr Isimeli Tukana, the Ministry of Health’s national advisor on NCDs. He told me how Fijians are dy­ing younger than they ever have before from NCDs. These diseases are leaving children without fathers; babies without mothers.

Now, for the first time, children are now being diagnosed with these diseases which had otherwise normally been con­fined to adults. Childhood obesity is a real issue and it comes back to a lifestyle of poor eating habits and diet coupled with lack of exercise.

Dr Tukana explained we have moved to­wards globalisation, but we have kept the old traditions. He stressed that thinking has to change.

Why can’t it?

We live in a country that lends itself to simple exercises such as walking and swimming. If this were a temperate climate or colder, we would want to stay under the bedcovers and hit the snooze button a 100 times to avoid getting out of bed.

It isn’t difficult to greet the sunrise or equally to be outdoors to watch it set; it is something of which one should never tire.

Walking around one’s neighbourhood or along the sea wall heightens one’s senses. It can be socially pleasurable, meeting others on the same mission: to get in half an hour of exercise a day, and recommended by the Ministry of Health.

It will grow on you; sooner than later your priorities will begin to change. Your enjoyment in exercise and the feeling of wellbeing will take precedence over other things that were once important.

Over time people will notice; they will comment with ‘You’re looking so good’ or ‘I saw you walking. You must be fit!’ Then you will realise you have done yourself the greatest favour. It can be contagious; spread the word to others and make a dif­ference to their lives, too.

*Julie Sutherland is a regular letter writer. The views expressed are the author’s and does not necessarily reflect the views of this newspaper.

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