A vision for public health in the region
Friday 17 November 2006, Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), 36th Committee of Representatives of the
Governments and Administrations (CRGA) – Gauging the effectiveness of SPC’s Public Health Programme (PHP) over the past
four years in relation to performance and service delivery, and assessing the future priorities of the programme
according to the public health needs and expectations of SPC member countries and territories and the requirements of
development partners – this was the rationale behind the recent PHP review.
Dr Colin Tukuitonga, a public health specialist who hails from Niue, headed the review team comprising himself, Dr Tony
Lower and Dr Debra Sorensen. The team consulted widely with members and stakeholders.
“If SPC is about the development of Pacific nations and communities, it is important for the region to put health as a
central issue in the PICT development agenda. Governments often put trade and employment at the centre of their
preoccupations. But think seriously about the place of health in development. It is true that tobacco companies employ
people, but the harm tobacco can have on the people’s health also needs to be considered,” said Dr Tukuitonga.
“SPC has done some good work, including the regional strategy to fight HIV and AIDS and in the area of surveillance of
emerging communicable diseases. But there are some pressing priorities that have not been so well supported, such as
diabetes and heart disease. These types of diseases are the leading causes of death in the region.
“Environmental health is also a regional priority, with major concerns about clean water, basic sanitation and waste
disposal. It is almost unethical to go on spending so much money on the prevention of communicable diseases – not that
this is not essential – while other vital priorities are seemingly ignored. Donors and international bodies have been
driving PICTs into focusing their attention on the communicable diseases, sometimes through international agreements
emanating from outside the region, and I think there needs to be a refocus on PICTs’ priorities.”
Dr Tukuitonga concluded, “SPC is the right organisation to do more public health work, but it needs to reposition
itself. I picture SPC’s leadership role as a champion of health issues in the region – protecting the region from the
strong cigarette-company lobby, and looking into trade agreements and checking the related unhealthy images around the
region and being an advocate in this sector. One of the recommendations of the review team is to restructure the SPC
Public Health Programme.”
Dr Jimmie Rodgers, SPC Director-General, agreed: “Pacific Islands people, and their health and well-being, are what SPC
is about. This review has opened new doors for the repositioning of our Public Health Programme, in keeping with SPC’s
overall direction of strategic repositioning.”