Posted by: Alicia Phillips | April 9, 2012

I Do More Than Go To The Beach, I Swear!

Someone asked me the other day “What is it you do in Fiji? Just hang out at the beach or go to resorts all the time?” Umm………not quite. Ha! I realized I never really talk about work on here, a lot of people must think that is all I do! So I figured it was about time to update everyone on my actual job here in Suva.

I work for the National Center for Health Promotion through the Fijian Ministry of Health. Within NCHP I work in the physical activity department. My job is to help promote physical activity to Fiji’s population to help combat non communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. I work about 30 hours a week in an office in town.

Little background on non-communicable diseases (NCD’s) in the pacific; In a nutshell….it’s a crisis. One would think that living on an island with all this vegetation everyone would be incredibly healthy, right? Wrong! Within the last 50 years, with all the changes in economy and influences showing up in these islands, the health of Pacific islanders has steadily dropped so that now the South Pacific has some of the most obese people in the world!!!!

How did it get this way? Western influences, mostly. Before westernization came to these countries people worked hard for their food. Planted crops and worked for hours in the field. They never added salt or ridiculous amounts of oil to their food like they do now. Foods such as bread and rice and soda and chocolate didn’t exist here. People would eat what they grew or what they caught. Now, with all the imported CRAP that people eat, no wonder everyone is so unhealthy. MSG is sold here in 10kg bags. Chinese food and Indian sweets are everywhere. Soda is cheaper than water in supermarkets. People don’t work in gardens anymore because they can get their food in town for dirt cheap. Canned meat such as tuna in oil and corned beef are eaten in huge amounts here and they are packed full of trans fat and sodium. All the rejected lower grade food from New Zealand and Australia is shipped here. Magi noodles (Fiji’s equivalent of our ramen) is eaten by the pound. People hardly eat a variety of vegetables because they are harder to grow than foods such as dalo and cassava. The caloric intake far exceeds the caloric expenditure and people are becoming obese because of it.

And a big issue is that there is no education here on the importance of nutrition and physical exercise. So many people are diagnosed with Diabetes it’s not even thought of as a big deal anymore. The amputation rate here is staggering. Everywhere you look you see people with amputated feet, legs and arms. Blindness, stroke, and kidney disease is also very common. 80% of the hospital admissions are NCD related. That’s a whole other story, the economic burden of NCD’s on the nation’s health care; we won’t get in to that. It’s so frustrating to see a morbidly obese woman feeding her obese children candy and soda. They honestly don’t know any better! I tried to tell someone the other day that orange soda is not a fruit and they didn’t believe me. Damn that Fanta!!

So, how is the Fijian Government approaching this? The MOH (Ministry of Health) has partnered with the WHO (World Health Organization) and developed the NCHP (National Center for Health Promotion). The NCHP has departments that work with the 4 risk factors for NCD’s: Smoking, Nutrition, Alcohol, and Physical Inactivity. S.N.A.P. is what it is called. And that’s where I come in, the physical activity part.

Since this is a pretty new department (it was only created last year) it is only me and my counterpart working in the Physical Activity department. My counterpart is SUPER smart and energetic and motivated and we work together really well. We bounce ideas off each other and come up with programs and activities and campaigns. What is different about working here for me is that since we work on a national level, most of our job is in policy making and legislation. Trying to get stakeholders to take initiative in developing programs that we will support once they are up and running. Working on monitoring and evaluation tools to measure successes. Piloting programs and tweaking parts of them so they may work on a wider scale. Not so much hands on stuff, which is what I am used to. It’s so interesting and I am learning so much.

So, here are a few things I have been working on since I started in January:

Current Projects:

–          A physical activity toolkit. Working on a flipchart on why and how you should be more active that will be sent out to all the health centers in Fiji.

–          Designing posters on physical activity to be disseminated to all health centers and schools.

–          Move for Health “fun runs” every month.

–          An initiative to get waist to hip ratio testing used more widely than BMI testing.

–          An internal wellness campaign to promote health within the Ministry of health.

Future projects:

–          I am working on getting Peace Corps office declared as a “healthy setting”

–          The month of Sept is Physical Activity month and I have this grand idea to organize a half marathon in Suva city. And the months leading up to it to advertise in the papers and tv with tips on how to train and eat right.

–          How cool would it be to have some sort of obstacle course 5k activity? Sort of like the ToughMudder competitions in the states?

–          Monthly physical activity campaigns to promote wellness

–          I’m trying to get professional work exchanges with the other volunteers living in villages. Working on aerobics and nutrition programs.

Lots of exciting stuff!!

Working with the MOH and the WHO has really sparked an interest in me when it comes to public health education. I have found that I am really passionate about it and I am good at what I do. Which makes coming to work so easy!

So…….this is what I do during the week when I come to work. Then it’s the weekends when I usually hit up the beach or a 5 star resort. I sure live a hard life here in paradise. 🙂


  1. So excited for this to come out to my village! The women are in desperate need of a ‘get moving’ program and to have information about NCDs presented to them from someone within the program. Can’t wait for you to come out here- they are going to love you! Get ready for the marriage proposals 🙂

  2. That is amazing!!! Good luck with your 5K. I think that is a great idea.

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