Dr Colin Tuikuitonga is a medical doctor who has also served as New Zealand's Director of Public Health and has worked for the World Health Organisation in Geneva.
The new role sees him take charge closer to home at the Pacific's peak regional organisation - the SPC.
Dr Tuikuitonga says chronic diseases remain a challenge.
Presenter: Campbell Cooney
Speaker: Dr Colin Tuikuitonga, newly appointed Director of Public Health, Secretariat of the Pacific Commmunity
TUKUITONGA: Obviously the chronic diseases, diabetes, heart disease, are the number one problem in all of the islands and unfortunately despite their best efforts, we don't see to make much progress, so clearly that's got to be addressed. I think the issues related to environmental health, both in terms of clean water and sanitation and the threats from climate change has got be up there next to it, because it's got enormous health implications, particularly for children. But I guess fundamentally from the organisation's point of view is to help build the capacity and the capability of the island states, so they can do more and do better than they are at the moment. I mean it's unrealistic to expect the organisation to be making progress without effective of working relationships with the island states.
COONEY: I'll get to environmental health in a minute. You mentioned those lifestyle problems, which, of course, diabetes comes under. I suppose this has been talked about for a long, long time. Why is it something that at times the message just does not get through to people out there? And I mean it's not just in the islands as well. This is a fairly significant issue in Australia and in New Zealand and also in the developed world as well. Why is that message just not getting across about problems and the lifestyle issues that are causing them?
TUKUITONGA: Well, I think convenience of processed, imported foods is hard to that compared with traditional living where people are still planting their crops and fishing and so on, because that's clearly been a big issue in the islands. I know it's a global problem, but it's largely related to the food items that people are eating and the food items that are out in the market place. Most people now don't eat traditional items and their levels of activity have declined rapidly, especially in the small islands.
COONEY: Yeah, I mean fast food is just too easy I suppose. I mean and I would be just as guilty as anybody when it comes to that as well. So it's an issue right around there. But talking about the environmental health issues and when you try to get a region-wide approach to things like good clean waters and issues and sanitation where would you see the SPC playing a major role in addressing that?
TUKUITONGA: Well, I think obviously the fundamental responsibility for delivery of clean water and sanitation rests with the island states, but I think SPC and other organisations in the development departments partners have a duty to provide the best quality technical assistance, both in terms of the science and how to apply it at the local level is I think where it's needed. Because people have been trying for awhile, but we don't seem to be making much progress there either.
COONEY: You, of course, were involved with the World Health Organisation as we heard beforehand. I mean are the issues that we're facing in the Pacific region shared in other parts around the world as well?
TUKUITONGA: Oh, absolutely. I mean diabetes and heart disease is a global issue with the exception perhaps of the Sub-Saharan Africa, but it's the big issue around the world. It's the number one killer, so that's shared between the islands and other parts of the world. It's particularly problematic in the islands of course. Environmental health issues again the same and climate change again is an issue affecting people around the globe. So I don't think there's anything particularly unique in the region that's different from other parts of the world. I just think we tend to have more of a particular type of issue and I think the realities of the islands make solutions a little bit more challenging.
COONEY: I'm sure about you've hears of Australia's commitment 100 million dollars to fight malaria. It's a global commitment, it's not just for the region. But do you see that as something positive and if you were to sort of get your hands on some of that money, what sort of things would you be doing with it?
TUKUITONGA: Well, food handling for malaria is confined to Melanesia and I understand that the Solomon Islands seem to have made some progress on this. I also understand that not just in the case of malaria, it's not just money that's the issue and it's great to have this resource. What's required is a bit more resourcefulness I guess in terms of how to apply this, i.e. as I say, malaria fortunately is confined to Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and the Solomons, so we'll do what we can to support that.
COONEY: You're a bit closer to home, after a period I understand in Geneva. Good to be back in the region?
TUKUITONGA: Oh, it's always good to be closer to home, and especially now that I'm able to work again in the region. It's always good to be working closer to home.