Published on 1st July 2015
In May, the World Health Organisation (WHO) released new figures showing that nine of the 10 most obese countries in the world are in the Pacific. The WHO's Pacific Health Systems and Policy Team Leader, Dr Ezekiel Nukuro, described the Pacific as being in a “crisis”, with three-quarters of all deaths attributable to diseases such as high blood pressure, type II diabetes and alcoholism. Increased rates of smoking, imported processed food and alcohol have all contributed, and health services, Dr Nukuro said, are overwhelmed.
Moniek Kindred spent two years volunteering with World Vision PNG as a Food Security and Nutrition Adviser, based in Buka, Bougainville, working towards reducing this burden on the health service by developing nutrition education. “It can be difficult to understand why malnutrition exists in Bougainville, where the soil is so fertile,” says Moniek. “There has been a combination of new, western cultural influences and changing behaviour, as well as a lack of knowledge about nutrition.”
With her counterpart, project manager Cecilia Naguo, Moniek worked on a mother and child health project. This involved delivering workshops herself, and training her counterpart and team officers to run community workshops.
Many women don’t get the nutrients they need when they're breastfeeding, Moniek says, and often don’t breastfeed their babies for very long. Children are then raised on carb-heavy foods. “Stigmas concerning food have been introduced – people grow fresh produce in their gardens and sell it at the markets in order to buy tinned fish and rice, which proves that they have a high income.”
Working with Buka Hospital and CARE International, Moniek and Cecilia’s training sessions included infant and young child feeding, safe motherhood and nutrition, and food demonstrations.
Their work has had an impact: “When I first got to Bougainville, no one was talking about nutrition,” Moniek says. “In my very last week of work, the paediatric doctor at the hospital asked me (instead of me asking him) to facilitate training in acute malnutrition management – it was huge to see that people are starting to talk about the problem and take pro-active steps to deal with it.”