Today the University of Sydney had the pleasure of welcoming the Honourable Dr Saia Piukala, Minister for Health and Public Enterprises, from the Kingdom of Tonga, along with his four colleagues, Dr Siale ‘Akau’ola, Chief Executive Officer for Health; Dr Amelia Latu Lokotui Afuha’amango Tuipulotu, Chief Nursing Officer (and PhD alumnus of the Sydney Nursing School), Ms Mele Tilema Cama, Principal of the Queen Salote School of Nursing, and Dr ‘Ana ‘Akau’ola, Radiology Specialist from the Ministry of Health.
The delegation met with several staff and friends from the Sydney Nursing School and Lenity Australia board members in the morning, followed by an afternoon meeting with the Sydney School of Public Health, Menzies Centre for Health Policy and Faculty of Health Sciences representatives.
Professor Bill Bellow, Dr Anne Marie Thow and Assoc Prof Philayrath Phongsavan reflected on their previous trips to Tonga and their continuing engagement, through the Prevention Research Collaboration, in the collaborative vision to reduce non communicable diseases (NCDs) and promote health and wellness.
In conjunction with Australian Aid, WHO Western Pacific and Tonga Health, the Minister launched the National Strategy for Prevention and Control of NCDs 2015-2020. It is recognised that a healthy, productive population is the cornerstone for achieving a more progressive Tonga supporting higher quality of life. The WHO concluded in 2014 that 99% of the Tongan adult population is at medium or high risk of developing an NCD. Tonga has been progressive in taking action to tackle NCDs, including women’s physical activity programs and tobacco tax measures. NCDs are a major cause of premature death in Tonga: in 2011 it was calculated that life expectancy had actually decreased by five years, largely due to NCDs. The major risk factors for NCDs are poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, alcohol misuse and obesity.
Tonga is improving the quality of the training curricula across nursing and allied health disciplines, most notably nursing and the first cohort of radiology scholars will graduate in two months, with the leadership of Associate Professor Mark McEntee and Dr ‘Ana ‘Akau’ola. Professor Jill White developed an NCD nursing course and graduated the first ever Advanced Nursing Diplomas in the prevention, detection and management of non-communicable diseases (NCD) students in 2014. Their role is to identify patients at high risk of developing an NCD, provide advice, and help those with an already diagnosed condition to manage illness.
Together, improved quality of training and collaborative research and service delivery support the goal of the Ministry of Health’s Corporate Plan – Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in Tonga. UHC is about ensuring that all people (men, women, boys and girls) obtain health services based on need and without suffering financial hardship when paying for them. In Tonga, a particular challenge is to provide a reasonable level of health services to people living on the most remote islands.
The University of Sydney remains committed to engaging in innovative approaches to training and teaching, and discussed new pedagogical models and e learning platforms that may support curriculum development. Staff and student exchange between Tonga and Sydney was also discussed, to provide experiences for University of Sydney students to understand the landscape of health and well being in Tonga and the detrimental impacts of climate change.