Offering to Hope Pacific Islanders Study Lifestyle Medicine

04 Jun 2016
Offering to Hope Pacific Islanders Study Lifestyle Medicine

An offering to be collected in Seventh-day Adventist churches next Sabbath (June 11) will help reduce the “crippling” burden of chronic disease in the South Pacific islands.

The Avondale College Offering will support the Lifestyle Research Centre at Avondale. The centre will offer seed money to Pacific islanders so they can begin postgraduate study in lifestyle medicine. This Pacific Partnership is designed to empower those with influence to share their knowledge with their communities.

Many of those communities must meet the challenge of treating chronic lifestyle medical issues, said Dr Chester Kuma, the Adventist Health Ministries representative for the Church in the South Pacific’s Discipleship Ministries team. “More of our members are now dying from lifestyle diseases than from communicable diseases.” He gives as examples the 80 per cent of deaths attributed to lifestyle diseases in Fiji and the 90 per cent overweight rate in the Cook Islands.

Ignorance and the availability of highly processed food are two of the contributing factors. Growing a garden is still commonplace, said Dr Kuma, but proceeds from the sale of fresh produce at market now fund the purchase of processed food. “What’s driving that? Ignorance. It seems we don’t understand how sugar relates to diabetes or salt to high blood pressure,” he said.

The South Pacific is “crippled by chronic disease,” said Dr Darren Morton, lead researcher at the Lifestyle Research Centre. “It’s the diabetes hot spot of the world.” Offering education in the management and treatment of chronic disease using lifestyle medicine interventions—which Morton says are cheap, simple and effective—“could radically transform people’s lives, their relationships and their communities.”

Dr Kuma is a Solomon Islander born in Papua New Guinea. He began his medical training in Fiji and is a former head of surgery for Solomon Islands. “It makes me sad when I return to the Pacific islands,” he said. “I willingly gave up surgery, the love of my life, because surgical intervention wasn’t solving the problem.” Dr Kuma remembers amputating limbs almost every day. “I wanted to begin educating people about how to prevent lifestyle diseases.”

It was the right decision, Dr Morton said. “It’s not enough to put bandaids on chronic disease; we need to treat the cause. Lifestyle medicine is about encouraging changes in behaviour and attitude.”

The money collected on June 11 will support Pacific islanders as they study the Graduate Certificate or the Graduate Diploma in Lifestyle Medicine. Avondale offers the courses through the Lifestyle Research Centre.

The Pacific Partnership is another example of the centre’s growing contribution to the Church’s comprehensive health strategy. But will it work? Dr Kuma thinks so. “Those who’ll be trained will become trainers of trainers. That’s how we’ll spread the message and address the ignorance. I welcome the initiative.”


Image credit: The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research/Flickr || Pacific farmer selling fresh produce