Offering to help lifestyle of Pacific islanders

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Cooranbong, New South Wales

An offering collected in Seventh-day Adventist churches on June 11 will help reduce the “crippling” burden of chronic disease in the South Pacific islands.

I willingly gave up surgery, the love of my life, because surgical intervention wasn’t solving the problem. I wanted to begin educating people about how to prevent lifestyle diseases.

The Avondale College Offering will support the Lifestyle Research Centre at Avondale College of Higher Education. The centre will offer seed money to Pacific islanders so they can begin postgraduate study in lifestyle medicine. This Pacific Partnership should empower those with influence to share their knowledge with those in their communities.

Many of those communities must meet the challenge of treating chronic lifestyle medical issues, says Dr Chester Kuma, the Adventist Health Ministries representative on the Church in the South Pacific’s Discipleship Ministries team. “More of our members are now dying from lifestyle diseases than from communicable diseases.” He gives as examples the 80 per cent cause of mortality in Fiji attributed to lifestyle disease and the 90 per cent overweight rate in the Cook Islands.

Ignorance and the availability of highly processed food are two of the contributing factors. Growing a garden is still commonplace, says Kuma, but the proceeds from the sale of produce at market now fund the purchase of processed food. “What’s driving that? Ignorance. It seems we don’t understand how sugar relates to diabetes or salt to high blood pressure.”

The South Pacific is “crippled by chronic disease,” says Dr Darren Morton, Lead Researcher in the Lifestyle Research Centre. “It’s the diabetes hot spot of the world.” Offering education in the management and treatment of chronic disease using lifestyle medicine interventions—which Morton says are cheap, simple and effective—“could radically transform people’s lives, their relationships and their communities.”

Kuma is a Solomon Islander born in Papua New Guinea. He began his training in Fiji and is a former head of surgery for the Solomon Islands. “It makes me sad when I return to the Pacific islands,” he says. “I willingly gave up surgery, the love of my life, because surgical intervention wasn’t solving the problem.” Kuma remembers amputating limbs almost every day. “I wanted to begin educating people about how to prevent lifestyle diseases.”

It is the right decision, says Morton. “It’s not enough to put bandaids on chronic disease; we need to treat the cause. Lifestyle medicine is about encouraging changes in behaviour and attitude.”

The money you give on June 11 will support Pacific islanders as they study the Graduate Certificate or the Graduate Diploma in Lifestyle Medicine. Avondale offers the courses through the Lifestyle Research Centre.

The Pacific Partnership is another example of the centre’s growing contribution to the Church’s comprehensive health strategy. But will it work? Kuma thinks so. “Those who’ll be trained will become trainers of trainers. That’s how we’ll spread the message and address the ignorance. I welcome the initiative.”