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Opening Address at the Multisectoral Health and Wellness Forum.

March 13, 2020       Pearl Resort, Pacific Habour.

The Permanent Secretary for Health and Medical Services , Ms. Bernadette Welch (PSM);

The World Health Organization Team Coordinator Pacific Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) and Health through the Life course, Dr. Wendy Snowdon;

Representative from the South Pacific Community, Public Health Advisor, Dr. Ilisapeci Kubuabola; 

Senior Government Ministry Officials;

Fiji NCD Stakeholders;

International Partners;

Invited Guests;

Ladies and Gentlemen. 

Ni Sa Bula Vinaka, Namaste, Noaia Mauri and a very good morning to you all.

This is my second visit to the Pearl Resort this week to officiate in meetings on an issue that is most topical in this day and age and more importantly, of great concern to Governments and Health authorities within our regional and global communities because of its detrimental effects on humanity’s socio-economic progress and prosperity.

Ladies and gentlemen, as well as being your President, I am also your Lead Advocate/National Champion in Fiji’s fight against Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD). I would like to acknowledge and thank the Permanent Secretary for Health and Medical Services for inviting me to deliver this morning’s opening address. May I also congratulate the Ministry of Health and Medical Services for the launch of your new five year strategic plan this week. 

I applaud the emphasis on partnership and collaboration as a major part of health systems strengthening. I have noted with great interest the link between NCD and the current global threat of COVID-19. I think we should all be interested in the evidence before us.

Available evidence has shown, Ladies and Gentlemen, that the majority of those who suffer the most serious consequences of COVID-19 are the elderly or those who have underlying conditions like NCDs. It makes the two Lifestyle meetings this week timely and appropriate. 

Talking about and sharing our experiences in effectively controlling NCD will help us to understand how to prepare the nation to become healthier and more resilient in the face of global outbreaks and pandemics.

I would like you in this forum to think about how to change the narrative – how to create a tide of health and wellness, helping people to understand that it starts with every one of us. Let us think about how we influence our own families, communities, schools and workplaces in making healthy choices.

For example in supporting Government’s Wellness Programme, I lead my staff by ensuring that we run and walk to keep fit and well, we serve healthy and home grown food to our visitors, and I have a home garden that you may want to visit. Fiji does not have to look far to learn about prevention and promotion of health and well-being. 

Our very successful measles response and our current COVID-19 response, both of which involved a nation coming together, can guide us as we plan a strategy for promotion of health and wellbeing to fight NCD.

I am heartened to see the diversity of the programme and the commitment of so many who are not usually in the room for discussions about how to combat NCD in Fiji.  You have recognised that what we have been doing to date has only been able to take us so far.  Our approach needs to change. You have been innovative in bringing new influencers and sectors into the room.

It is now up to you to take advantage of this opportunity and truly come together beyond this forum to develop an effective multi-sector strategy for addressing the curse of NCD in Fiji.  But do not stop there.  We need a strategy that can and will be implemented. One that breaks new ground.  We need innovation, commitment and collaboration.  

The Ministry of Health and Medical Services has set the scene by bringing you all together.  It is up to you to move this forward. I am counting on you to show the leadership that is needed to break the back of this wicked problem.

On that note, it gives me great pleasure to declare the Multisectoral Health and Wellness Forum officially open.

Thank you, Vinaka Vakalevu, and may Almighty God bless the Ministry of Health and our beloved Nation Fiji.