Le developpement nous tue

When we graduate from our LDC status next Friday (4th Dec), will we, as individuals and as citizens of this reinvigorated nation also be ‘graduating’ and walking away from our dismal status as one of the top 10 type 2 Diabetic countries on the face of the entire planet?

The graduation logo designed by the National Coordinating Committee (NCC) is great: ‘Yumi redi long nekis stej blong divelopmen blong yumi’. While highly ambitious, it is an optimistic, affirmative and hope-filled statement that also carries with it an air of absolute confidence for the future. It should inspire us for some pretty interesting changes. It is a mantra that should be repeated over and over again until it permeates not just the fabric of Government corridors, but much more so and more importantly our lives as individuals who make up the population of this great Pacific country. Diabetes and other Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) are self-inflicted, lest we forget.

In 2015 Vanuatu ranked 6th in the world on type 2 Diabetes cases. The very serious concerns raised by the Leader of Opposition MP Ralph Regenvanu in Parliament last week indicate a trend that does not look good.

Le developpement nous tue

In 2015 the former Curator of the Vanuatu Cultural Centre (VKS) Kirk Huffman warned of our very alarming diabetes rating. Much earlier on in 2006 his colleague the late Jean-Marc Pambrun, then Director of the Museum of Tahiti openly lamented to him, ‘Le developpement nous tue’, which in English translates, ‘Development is killing us’. Indeed it is. The news of Covid-19 scares us to death, but no one’s died from it thus far in Vanuatu. But diabetes and NCDs do everyday! It is shocking and frightening.

We now have the so-called ’10,000 Toes’ initiative being promoted all over the Pacific to try and salvage and save lives that are being incapacited, crippled and killed by diabetes. This in effect makes covid look like a pretty innocent disease, at least for us in Vanuatu. Covid is nine (9) months old whereas NCDs have been around with us for decades. How about we address some causes and culprits?

Worldviews, beliefs, values – plausible culprits?

Ultimately, what you value and believe or not believe in translates to associated actions. Narrow this line of argument down further and closer to home, when you enter a supermarket to do groceries shopping, do you necessarily think ‘health’? When you’re thinking about a meal is ‘good health’ a standing rule of thumb or not?

Our worldviews, beliefs and value systems are derived from our religious beliefs, peers, adverts, Television, social media and from those we consider as leaders. But, what if they are wrong? On the question of health, what if they are medically and scientifically proven all wrong – do you still listen to and follow them? One thing is sure, the god of taste is an overpowering taskmaster and it has sent countless hundreds and thousands prematurely to the grave, as is the classic case with diabetese and NCDs in general.

To add, if the god of taste is too overpowering on our lives to the extent that we are willing to sacrifice reason on the alter of appetite, then we have only ourselves (our worldviews, beliefs and values) to blame.

This is where the power of choice makes a big difference. Use it wisely and it saves you, use it wrongly and you make your way down early. And for once, lets not blame premature deaths on witchcraft or ‘nakaimas’. Most times people may be their own killers. Stop looking for excuses to blame others like in the story ‘The Devil Made Me Do It’.

The willpower to overcome: my former boss’s story

Overcoming bad habits is an eternal challenge. But it is not insurmountable. I recall a former boss who was literally a chain smoker.

On my first entry into his room the morning of my first day at work, I almost choked with the very foul stench of his cigarette smoke. I mean, the entire room – including books, papers, pens, etc. I could have very easily applied strict covid rules (social distancing, hand washing, etc.) back then just because of this cigarette stuff. It literally stunk and was very off-putting. But out of sheer respect neither I nor the other officers dared to tell him about it.

One day he went on mission abroad and because he appreciated my commitment to work, had me serve as OIC (Officer-In-Charge) of the department. Another officer in the department was also a great smoker. They literally smoked like human chimneys. This OIC role was my golden opportunity to strike. And I did. I wrote an ‘Internal Memo’ on the subject of ‘Smoking within enclosed buildings’. I quoted what I thought was the ‘law’. Soon the boss returned home. Monday morning he read his copy of the memo among the pile of documents in his pigeon hole. The memo caught his attention. He was mad, but he couldn’t confront me about it, so when I was out of the office he took the memo to another colleague, slammed it on his desk and cheekily asked in bislama, ‘bae yufala igo long Heaven wetaem’? The colleague almost froze in his chair. The boss walked away. A day later the colleague related the account of yesterday’s encounter with the boss. I laughed and told him, ‘I don’t care, as long as I shared my piece of mind without fear or favour’.

One day, after I had relocated the VFIB (now VFIPA) to another building in town, the boss called and told me over the phone that he had decided to quit smoking (surprise! surprise!). I asked for how long, he said ‘so far already two weeks’.

I asked him how he felt and he quickly responded, ‘oh I feel really great’.

I listened to him as he preached a brief devotional sermon to me that morning over the phone about his newfound healthier life. What happened to that chain smoker? He simply decided to quit. He had plucked up the courage and exercised great will power to overcome and to kick the habbit.

To get back to where we started off, yes, we are about to celebrate graduation from LDC, but we can’t afford to allow the negative aspects of development – especially diabetes and NCDs – to kill us like helpless flies.

Howard Aru is current CEO of the Vanuatu Foreign Investment Promotion Agency (VFIPA) and former Director General of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Forestry, Fisheries and Biosecurity, and the Ministry of Health

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