Role of the church crucial in the fight against NCD epidemic in the Pacific

UNDP Administrator, Helen Clark agrees with the observation of King Tupou VI of Tonga that the church plays an important role in the fight to bend the curve on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the Pacific.

“The role of the church and the voice of church leaders is extremely important. In the Pacific and here in Tonga, food is offered as part of hospitality. I think the issue here is what is being offered. In NZ, there was a movement in the marae for healthy kae, healthy food. We can have that here where we serve healthy cooked food, vegetables and fruits.

King Tupou VI echoed the same sentiments – laying down the challenge that without the churches co-operation, the Pacific’s push to address NCDs will be more difficult.

“Many church leaders have shown strong leadership in making often unpopular decisions related to food given it’s an integral part of Tongan social and ceremonial events.

“I’ve had my views on this matter very clear in my own congregation and am encouraged by the developments, said King Tupou VI. 

This week, hundreds from the Tongan diaspora all over the world are in Nuku’alofa for the 150th Anniversary of the Wesleyan-run Tupou College to be followed by the Wesleyan Church conference. The week-long event will be marked by feasting and celebrations. 

A different perspective on the role of the church was shared by Samoan Pastor Lenny Solomona, whose 1 Touch Ministry is involved in the campaign to ‘Stop Obesity’ in adults and children in Samoa.

“Our health initiative is a holistic approach that over time will address the problem of obesity in Samoa.  We do not only target to improve their physical appearance but also build their spiritual life during the 10 week boot camp.

“We started with 19 people in 2014 and we are now into our 10th challenge with 1,502 registered for the programme, said Pastor Solomona.

After the success of the adults’ boot camp, his ministry has started a “No Obesity’ campaign for schools in Samoa where children are taught and encouraged to choose healthy and local food over processed food from supermarket shelves.

“We have children telling their parents not to buy processed snacks and fizzy drink over healthier choices.

“We have seen many success stories – a man with type 2 diabetes was cleared by his doctor after completing the boot camp. He had black marks around his neck. By the end of the boot camp, the marks had disappeared from physical training, proper diet and eating healthy food, said Pastor Solomona.

His aim is not only to change the outward appearance of his trainees but change the inward man in his thinking and the choices that he makes.

“I’ve always believed in the word of the holy scriptures. “With God nothing is impossible’. That has been my message in the fight against obesity in Samoa, said Pastor Solomona. 

The NCD Summit continues until Wednesday this week in Nuku’alofa, Tonga