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Smoking and Cardiovascular Disease in the Pacific Island Countries

Smoking and Cardiovascular Disease in the Pacific Island Countries

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are a significant and common health problem in most Pacific island countries and worldwide. CVDs are the number one cause of death in the world. In the Western Pacific region, there is a 16.2% chance of dying of a CVD, cancer or diabetes between the ages of 30 and 70.

Some of the most common types of CVDs include heart attacks, raised blood pressure, stroke and heart failure. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the main causes of these diseases are lifestyle factors, in particular having an unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity, tobacco use and harmful use of alcohol.

Unfortunately, most of the time there are no underlying symptoms or signs of cardiovascular disease until something terrible happens - usually a heart attack or a stroke. So, the best way to avoid and treat cardiovascular disease is by addressing the above mentioned lifestyle factors, of which smoking is the number 1.

Smoking alone causes more than 1 million cardiovascular deaths in the Pacific every year. More than 1 in 5 cardiovascular diseases are caused by tobacco use. While 1 in 4 people in the Western Pacific region are smokers, it is also important to remember that CVDs and death can also be caused by second hand smoke, resulting in around 168,000 deaths in the region every year.

The importance of smoke-free workplaces

Due to the added problem of secondhand smoke, the WHO has implemented a campaign for smoke-free workplaces, which calls on employers all over the region, including in offices and restaurants, to make their workplaces 100% smoke-free.

Some Pacific island countries  have taken this a step further, implementing tobacco-free village policies in countries such as Fiji.

Kalabu Village in Fiji is tobacco-free

Reducing tobacco supply and demand

Studies by WHO show that as tobacco use declines as tobacco control efforts increase. Such control efforts include limiting the advertising and promotion of tobacco products, increasing tobacco taxes and promoting tobacco cessation.

Plain packaging on cigarette packets

The Western Pacific region has already seen great improvements in decreasing people's access to tobacco products. For instance in Vanuatu, graphic health warnings and pictures cover more than 90% of the packaging on tobacco products. Additionally, Australia was the first country to implement plain packaging laws, meaning that the appeal of tobacco products is reduced (see picture).

It is predicted that by 2025, the prevalence of smokers in the Western Pacific will decrease to 22%. While this is a great improvement from around 25% today, there remains a long way to go.

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How can education help us achieve Universal Health Coverage?

How can education help us achieve Universal Health Coverage?

Universal Health Coverage (UHC) is a state where citizens can access health care services without incurring financial hardship. This means that all people and communities have access to quality promotive, preventive, curative, rehabilitative and palliative health services that they need. The three pillars of UHC are equity in access, quality of service, and protection of financial risk. UHC is especially important now, with 123.6 million people globally being pushed below the $3.10 poverty line by out of pocket health care expenditure (Wagstaff et. al., 2017).

Universal Health Coverage Image

Universal Health Coverage

As part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, members have agreed to work towards UHC by 2030. This goal is a challenging one, with low and middle-income countries having to battle with larger populations, a smaller health workforce, fewer resources, and less available spending. These countries account for 83% of the world’s population (World Bank, 2013 data), however, they only have access to a quarter of the nurses and half the physicians that higher income countries do (World Bank, 2013 data for nurses and physicians). Health expenditure is also a problem, with low and middle-income countries spending only a fraction on health care compared to high-income countries. This is compounded by the significant cuts to foreign aid investments from higher income economies. A reason for this disparity is lack of resources, which are rich in countries that have a large knowledge base or flourishing knowledge economies. A knowledge economy is one that is dependent on the quality, quantity, and accessibility of the information available, for its growth. Two things that a healthy knowledge economy needs are both higher education institutions and reasonable access to information. Establishing higher education opportunities and access to knowledge for health workers in the Pacific is notably difficult. Access to professional development and education programs may be limited in hard to reach areas, which can discourage candidates looking to further their career training and education. Much of the knowledge required to establish UHC already exists. Poor access to this knowledge what presents a major barrier to achieving Universal Health Coverage.  POLHN aims to improve Pacific health care through e-learning. POLHN aims to improve the quality and standards of practice of health professionals by offering free, online and blended courses at With this access to knowledge and continuing professional development for healthcare workers in the Pacific – the hope is UHC will be soon to follow.   To find out more and be the first to know what is happening at POLHN, sign up to our newsletter by clicking here.

“I am and I will” – Taking Personal Action against Cancer | World Cancer Day

“I am and I will” – Taking Personal Action against Cancer | World Cancer Day

Cancer is the second leading cause of death worldwide, with 9.6 million people dying from the disease each year (Bray et. al., 2018). Monday 4th February is World Cancer Day when individuals and organisations unite to significantly reduce illness and death caused by cancer. Led by the Union of International Cancer Control, the day specifically aims to rally the international community to raise awareness of the disease and encourages its prevention, detection and treatment.

In 2019, World Cancer Day started a three-year campaign under the tagline “I am and I will”, which endeavours to empower individuals to reduce the impact of cancer for yourself, the people you love, and for the world. Around the world, communities will hold a range of events on the day to raise awareness and educate people on how to fight cancer through early detection and screening, as well as through making healthy lifestyle choices like physical activity and healthy eating.

POLHN offers a range of courses that have been specifically designed for healthcare professionals to gain knowledge about how lifestyle factors can predispose patients to cancer, as well as assist healthcare professionals to help others change aspects of their lifestyle and limit risk factors to prevent cancer. Few of the courses can also help Health Care team in combating emergency situations and infections in cancer patients as well. These courses include:

For those who have completed these courses, stay tuned as new courses on Alcohol and Healthy Diet (Macronutrients and Micronutrients) are coming soon. To be the first to know, sign up to our newsletter by clicking here.


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  2. Brown KF, Rumgay H, Dunlop C, et al. The fraction of cancer attributable to modifiable risk factors in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the United Kingdom in 2015. Br J Cancer.2018;118:1130‐1141.
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  4. Wilson LF, Antonsson A, Green AC, et al. How many cancer cases and deaths are potentially preventable? Estimates for Australia in 2013. Int J Cancer.2018;142:691‐701.