Diabetes in the Pacific

The most dangerous thing in the Solomon Islands these days isn’t a rebel alliance; it’s a sugar-heavy diet. We talk to Janette Searle about the very real dangers of the Solomon’s diabetes epidemic and how our partner charity Take My Hands are fighting hard to keep patients well cared for.

In July of this year, I had the pleasure of visiting the Solomon Islands to meet with many of the fabulous people and organisations that Take My Hands has been working with over the past three years. Since 2015, we have sent over 40,000 kgs of medical equipment – hospital beds, medical trolleys, surgical gloves and masks – to the NRH hospital in Honiara. This equipment will help over 73,000 people over the next five years.  

Many will be familiar with the Solomon Islands more recent history of RAMSI’s (The Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands) involvement in helping the country recover from near collapse and unspeakable violence.  However, it is not guns that are the major threat to most citizens; it’s diabetes.

While visiting the NRH hospital, I was fortunate enough to be shown around by the lovely and committed Dr. Rooney Jagilly, the head of the surgical unit. Over half of the patients he and his team treat are there for diabetes-related causes; leg and foot ulceration requiring amputation, heart attacks, strokes, and kidney failure. Many of these prove to be fatal.

For the Solomon Islands, diabetes is not necessarily accompanied with obesity. The general population looks relatively healthy, in fact. It is only when you understand how much their diet has changed that you start to understand how diabetes has become an epidemic. Many Solomon Islands citizens are subsistence farmers, living in villages and supplementing or replacing native foods with cheap and easy processed foods high in sugars. Talking to both Dr. Rooney and Dr. John Hue – the new Medical Superintendent – at the NRH they revealed that in the 1990s, very few patients had diabetes-related illnesses or symptoms. Diabetes is a new threat facing their country as well as many other Pacific Island nations.

The Solomon Islands are working with a health system that is severely under resourced. For the past few months, the NRH hospital have had a major shortage of basic consumables such as gauze, bandages and medicines. They are working with broken equipment and treating patients in buildings that are unfit. The staff are fantastic, positive and doing everything they can but the quality of healthcare is worryingly limited.   

Take My Hands has committed to sending two 40-foot containers of hospital beds to the Solomon Islands over the next three months. The first of these will be leaving from Wellington at the end of September, the other shipping out from Auckland a few weeks later.  

With the generous support of One Percent Collective, we are able to cover some of the costs associated with our projects so that we can do more with less. With $2,500, we can support the transport of a container which will contain between $50,000 and $150,000 worth of medical equipment and help between 10,000 and 20,000 people over the next five years. A little goes a very, very long way.

We would like to thank all of you who have supported Take My Hands. On behalf of ourselves and all of our recipient partners and the people they help live healthy lives, we couldn’t have done this without you.

Words and Image by Janette Searle.

Take My Hands operates on the smallest of budgets to deliver enormous impact in the regions where they work,. To support with your 1% just click on the big blue button below, thank you.