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June 14, 2019

Disease and Food in Vanuatu

MIZUHO Kosaka (Ms.) (Nurse)
2017 first Batch squadron
Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers

PhotoPasturage of cows in Port Orly

My Name is MIZUHO Kosaka and I came in Vanuatu in July, 2017 to work as a volunteer in nursing . I will return home soon after completion of my two-year term of service. Vanuatu is an archipelago nation consisting of 83 islands, and its area corresponds to the size of Niigata Prefecture. These islands are divided into six provinces, and my site is located on the island of Espiritu Santo in the Samma Province. It is 60 km north from the capital of the province to my village, Port Orly, which has a beautiful white sand beach and plentiful coconut plantation. In this area, there are a large number of cattle and livestock farming is flourishing. The population of 2,300 in Port Orly is the second largest among villages in Vanuatu.

I was appointed to the health center in the village, and I have provided medical treatment assistance and health education in schools and in the community. The number of people with the NCD (Non-Communicable Disease) has been increasing in Vanuatu, and it is said that 70% of deaths are caused by the NCD. There were many villagers suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure, so we have promoted prevention enlightenment activity against the NCD with dietary improvement and exercise. It is also significant that villagers keep their daily lives with basic sanitation knowledge since they have still a habit of outdoor excretion. Furthermore, we have made efforts to tackle skin infections disease and parasite infections.

In Vanuatu, there is little opportunity to know one's own health data such as blood pressure and weight, and few people know the proper index for their health management. With my colleagues, I started conducting health examinations such as height, weight, abdominal circumference, blood pressure, and blood sugar level measurement every six months. I also have kept trying easy examinations, weight and blood pressure measurement, at the church on Sundays. Approximately 75% of adults are overweight or obese in this area, so we have given instructions to them showing BMI with comparison between their actual weight and ideal one at the same time of health checkups.

PhotoInstructing BM and Blood pressure

PhotoScaling weight in Church

PhotoStandard Meal (plenty of rice and potato with a small quantity of meat, fish and vegetables)

Through my living experience in the area, I came to think that eating too much carbohydrate was a major cause of overweight and obesity. The villagers eat a large quantity of processed food such as imported rice, bread, instant noodles and crackers, in addition to potatoes that have been eaten as a staple food since ancient era. Though protein such as beef and fish can be easily obtained, it is difficult to take usually sufficient vegetables because of unstable harvest and supply depending on seasons.

However, the most villagers have some basic knowledge about food and disease, "we eat a lot of rice and gain weight", "we should eat vegetables to prevent diseases," "we should not take too much Sugar and oil." They do not have only proper detailed knowledge about diet balance.

PhotoScaling quantity of daily meal

With the help of a dietitian volunteer working in the same island, we developed teaching materials that Ni-Vanuatu could understand the balanced nutritional food at first sight, and conducted health education to review their daily diet. We surveyed the quantity of rice consumed by 20-30's mothers, and had activities to make them aware of how much they eat excessively. In the primary school, we taught pupils diet balance with activities of drawing dishes they actually had on that day.

The Over-eating and unbalanced diets are a major cause of NCDs, but on the other hand, I want them to enjoy their happy meals with their family and friends. It is of course the long way for them to have healthy diet habits, but I hope that they think about their diet by themselves and that they could reduce NCDs little by little.

PhotoDrawing activity for diet balance in the primary school

I have sometimes struggled with the inconvenience in my local life with insufficiency of water, electricity, modern communication tools, etc. Meanwhile, I learned a lot from Ni-Vanuatu about their strength, kindness and hospitality, furthermore the view of life and death in Vanuatu. I would like to keep in mind and make use of these experiences in Vanuatu for my future.


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