Australian Health Review Australian Health Review Society
Journal of the Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Pacific island health inequities forecast to grow unless profound changes are made to health systems in the region

Don Matheson A D , Kunhee Park B and Taniela Sunia Soakai C

A Griffith University School of Medicine, 170 Kessels Road, Nathan, Qld 4111, Australia.

B World Health Organization, Level 4, Provident Plaza One, Downtown Boulevard, 33 Ellery Street, Suva, Fiji. Email: parkku@who.int

C Pacific Community BP D5, 98848, Noumea, New Caledonia. Email: sunia@spc

D Corresponding author. Email: donmathes@gmail.com

Australian Health Review - http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/AH16065
Submitted: 9 May 2016  Accepted: 23 August 2016   Published online: 20 February 2017

Abstract

Objective Twenty years ago the Pacific’s health ministers developed a ‘Healthy Islands’ vision to lead health development in the subregion. This paper reports on a review of health development over this period and discusses the implications for the attainment of the health related Sustainable Development Goals.

Methods The review used qualitative and quantitative methods. The qualitative review included conducting semi-structured interviews with Pacific Island Government Ministers and officials, regional agencies, health workers and community members. A document review was also conducted. The quantitative review consisted of examining secondary data from regional and global data collections.

Results The review found improvement in health indicators, but increasing health inequality between the Pacific and the rest of the world. Many of the larger island populations were unable to reach the health Millennium Development Goals. The ‘Healthy Islands’ vision remained an inspiration to health ministers and senior officials in the region. However, implementation of the ‘Healthy Islands’ approach was patchy, under-resourced and un-sustained. Communicable and Maternal and Child Health challenges persist alongside unprecedented levels of non-communicable diseases, inadequate levels of health finance and few skilled health workers as the major impediments to health development for many of the Pacific’s countries.

Conclusions The current trajectory for health in the Pacific will lead to increasing health inequity with the rest of the world. The challenges to health in the region include persisting communicable disease and maternal and child health threats, unprecedented levels of NCDs, climate change and instability, as well as low economic growth. In order to change the fortunes of this region in the age of the SDGs, a substantial investment in health is required, including in the health workforce, by countries and donors alike. That investment requires a nuanced response that takes into account the contextual differences between and within Pacific islands, adherence to aid effectiveness principles and interventions designed to strengthen local health systems.

What is known about the topic? It is well established that the Pacific island countries are experiencing the double disease burden, and that the non-communicable disease epidemic is more advanced.

What does this paper add? This paper discusses the review of 20 years of health development in the Pacific. It reveals that although progress is being made, health development in the region is falling behind that of the rest of the world. It also describes the progress made by the Pacific countries in pursuit of the ‘Healthy Islands’ concept.

What are the implications for practitioners? This paper has significant implications for Pacific countries, donor partners and development partners operating across and within Pacific countries. It calls for a substantial increase in health resourcing and the way development assistance is organised to arrest the increasing inequities in health outcomes between Pacific people and those of the rest of the world.

Additional keywords: health promotion, health system evaluation, health system strengthening, Healthy Islands, Pacific island health development, settings approach, sustainable development goals.


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