Permanent Secretary for Health, Doctor James Fong says after two years of non-stop COVID-19 coverage, he fears that the issue of Non-Communicable Diseases which is by far the number one killer of our people, has been secondary in our national discourse but the suffering it creates is not second to any threat our people face to their wellbeing.
In a press conference, Dr Fong says NCDs are deadly on their own but COVID-19 can turn them into more efficient killers.
He says these are group of diseases that can only worsen COVID-19, and can inflict a higher toll on our society than the virus ever could.
Dr Fong says we lost an estimated 5700 Fijians due to Non-Communicable Diseases in 2020 and these lives were ended too soon by silent killers like diabetes, stroke, heart disease and others.
He says NCDs and other comorbidities also complicate their ability to precisely determine the causes of death, as it may be that someone died with COVID but not from it.
Dr Fong says because most of the deaths have occurred at home, it has become very difficult for them to be sure as to what is the extent to which NCDs contributed to the death and the extent to which COVID-19 contributed to that.
He says their policy has been to categorize all these deaths as COVID-19 deaths but what is indisputable is the comorbidities that contributed to the fatality.
Dr Fong says we all know that COVID-19 will be endemic in Fiji which means the virus will never go away but will remain like common flu and it is our duty to engage in health-seeking behaviour that builds our resilience to the virus.
He says that means taking steps to keep ourselves healthy like eating more nutritious foods, exercising regularly and getting vaccinated and boosted when we are eligible.
Dr Fong says because the NCD epidemic is such an unreported underreported crisis, he worries that not enough of us know about the resources that are available at the ministry to save lives from these diseases.
He says these diseases are not like viruses like COVID-19 as you cannot catch them from other people but it takes root through bad habits, developing over an extended timeline of months to years, due to primarily to the overconsumption of sugar, salt, oils and highly processed foods and a chronic lack of physical activity.
Dr Fong says the burden that these diseases play on our society and the health system is enormous and it is estimated to amount to up to about $400 million annually.
He says it does not mean that the government spent over 400 billion failing to combat NCDs as disease burden is a measure of lost potential.
Dr Fong adds if you add up every last hour of productivity due to medical procedures, loss of mobility, injury or amputation or loss of life due to NCDs, the estimated cost to the country amounts to more than $400 billion every year.
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