Tonga sends representatives to 70th World Health Assembly in Geneva

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Health Minister Saia Piukala and Dr Paula Vivili at 70th World Health Assembly in Geneva.

The Tongan government has sent two representatives to the 70th World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Minister of Health Hon. Saia Piukala and SPC Director of Public Health Division Dr Paula Vivili have joined representatives from 194 countries in the international health assembly.

The WHA was held in the Palais des Nations, located near the Place des Nations and Avenue de la Paix on Monday 22 – 25.

The Minister said the meeting was important for Tonga because it looked at prevention and control of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Tonga accounted for an estimated 74 per cent of all mortality in 2008, according to Commonwealth Health Online.

The Minister told a conference in Shanghai in 2016 that what he called “the obesity epidemic” was affecting young people in the kingdom.

Hon. Piukala cited the example of a primary school in Tonga where a 2011 study found that 30% of the students between five to seven were either overweight or obese.

“Overweight and obesity rates of more than 80% and even 90% of the adult population is common among many Pacific  countries and diabetes prevalence of around 20% and more are not uncommon,” the Minister said.

The country’s life expectancy, which was once in the mid-70s, has fallen to 64.

The assembly also discussed Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Cerebro Spinal Meningitis (CSM) epidemic in Nigeria, and election of a new President of the World Health Organisation (WHO) which were expected to top the agenda of the Assembly.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a health expert from Ethiopia, was elected as the new director-general to lead the United Nations agency focused on international public health.

Tedros, who prefers to be called by his first name, will be taking over the position from Dr. Margaret Chan, who has been overseeing the agency since 2006.

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