In its latest quarterly update released in June, the Health ministry said a total of 5155 people in the Cook Islands were living with NCDs.
Fifty-two per cent of those diagnosed were females. Patients suffering from diabetes and hypertension continue to dominate NCD cases, with hypertension contributing to a high number of cardiovascular diseases, the update said.
However, the ministry noted these conditions together had shown a decline of eight per cent to 64 per cent in 2016, and three per cent to 51 per cent this year.
The update said that in the first quarter of 2016, a comparatively large number of people had died from as a result of strokes, contributing to cardiovascular diseases being the major cause of death for the past two years.
Evaluated by island, Mangaia and Mauke dominated statistics with 42 and 40 per cent respectively of their populations suffering from NCDs. Cases on Rarotonga continued to increase, rising from 37 to 38 per cent since the last quarter (2016).
The Ministry of Health is deeply concerned at the continued increase in NCDs. Health minister Nandi Glassie said 80 per cent of hospital referrals were to do with people suffering from NCD-related conditions.
Conditions include diabetes, cancer, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases.
Cardiovascular diseases include stroke, heart diseases and myocardial infarction, while chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases include asthma, bronchiectasis, emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
“We need to be aware that diabetes is in our country and no-one is going to help us. It’s (up to) ourselves. It’s what you put in your mouth that matters. If you put a lot of sugar in your body, you will get diabetes,” Glassie said.
“It’s really a common sense approach towards looking after yourself: Eating a balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables and cutting down on smoking, because smoking kills. Reduce your consumption of alcohol and most importantly, be active.
“A daily half-hour walk at your own pace and a little bit of outdoor activity such as gardening will help circulate the blood in your system.”
Glassie said the prevalence of NCDs was boosted by the lifestyles of Cook Islands residents.
The ministry had strategies in place to combat NCDs, but the onus was on people to look after themselves well.
Health ministry strategies included increasing awareness programmes on the effects of NCDs.
Glassie said Health was also working with agencies such as Pacific Community (SPC) and the World Health Organisation to fight the rise of NCDs.
“Personally, I suggest we should go back to our natural food. Imported and processed foods are not healthy. Chicken, for example, is infiltrated with chemicals. That will have some impact on us.”
Child obesity was one of the key topics at the 12th Pacific Health Ministers meeting held on Rarotonga this week and Glassie had something to say about this, too.
“Child obesity is not a very good indicator in our society because as they grow old, they will contract diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer very earlier and that will have some impact on our workforce.
“The intention is for us to have a healthy workforce here in the Pacific.”