Connect the Blue Continent
Rationale for affordable broadband access to Pacific Island Communities – enabling improved health and well-being
Remote Pacific Island communities are at risk of a long-term health crisis and health-related aid dependency because they are unable to engage in global knowledge sharing and services enabled by affordable, broadband-speed Internet.
It is our contention that broadband access, systems and skills capacity development represents the best investment for the long term health and well-being of Pacific Island communities.
Pacific Island communities are currently facing a number of major public health issues.
The levels of obesity, diabetes and heart disease are a major concern.
According to research in ‘Poverty Climate change and health in Pacific Island countries’ by Dr A Russell (see Reference A below), American Samoa, Tokelau and the Marshall Islands have more than 40 percent of adults aged 25 to 64 years old with diabetes. It is estimated that the number of diabetes sufferers could double by 2025 if no action is taken.
Recent surveys found that the prevalence of overweight and obesity among adults aged 25 to 64 years is as high as 93.5 percent in Tokelau and American Samoa; 93.3 percent in Nauru; 88.5 percent in Cook Islands; 85.1 percent in Samoa; 80.1 percent in Marshall Islands; and 62.8 percent in Fiji. In the Cook Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Samoa and Tonga more than 60 percent of population is obese. Only Papua New Guinea has a low level of obesity (less than 5 percent of the population).
According to this research, another challenge is breathing and gastroenteritic diseases, which are related to water pollution, poor sanitation and inappropriate health and hygiene practices. Sewage contamination of coastal water is also a risk for cholera outbreaks.
In addition, Malaria causes the death of nearly 800 local residents each year. It is endemic in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu.
The Pacific Islands have some of the highest expenditures on health among developing countries. They spend around 13 percent of their total government expenditure on health, compared to 9 percent for the Caribbean Islands.
This research shows that, despite investment in the development of national nutrition action plans and promotion of healthy eating and physical activity, poor nutrition, obesity and the resulting health consequences show little improvement.
Opportunities that Broadband provides
- Broadband improves awareness and knowledge
One of Broadband’s most valuable impacts on health is raising communities’ knowledge and awareness around healthy life-styles, healthy diets and how to prevent or manage different diseases. Prevention or early treatment drastically reduces the social and economic costs to the community.
- Broadband and Electronic Health Records (EHR)
Broadband access and appropriate systems can help improve health care to remote communities by enabling enhanced medical record keeping which give patients and authorized providers an instant and centralized access to critical information such as health histories, medical images and treatment regimes (Reference B).
This enables efficient and effective exchange of patient and treatment information by removing geography and time barriers to care – and this approach is more affordable – on average 20% less costly than on-site solutions (Reference C).
- Broadband and Video Consultation
Video conferencing with a doctor or specialist helps people in remote areas to access specialist, high quality diagnosis and treatment services. Combining video conferencing with EHR can deliver significantly cost savings and improved outcomes.
- Broadband and Remote Patient Monitoring
Remote patient monitoring can remove barriers to earlier detection of health problems through indicators like blood pressure or glucose level (Reference D). This enables the options of preventative diet or exercise life-style changes or other early treatments.
Access to affordable broadband for all communities, together with systems and skills capacity growth, represents the best investment for long term health and well-being across the Pacific Islands region and a viable future for all communities. Please join our call for a joint regional policy initiative to ‘Connect the Blue Continent’.
Authors: Bahar Forghani, Chris Sampson
A. Dr. Russell, April 2009, Poverty Climate change and health in Pacific Island countries http://ussc.edu.au/s/media/docs/publications/0904_pacificislandspaper_russell.pdf
B. Neurberger, August 2011, CISSP, Advancing Healthcare Through Broadband, http://internetinnovation.org/files/special-eports/Advancing_Healthcare_Through_Broadband-Neuberger.pdf
C. US Federal Communications Commission, National Broadband Health Plan, http://www.broadband.gov/plan/10-healthcare/
D. Australia Government Department of Broadband, Communications and Digital Economy, April 2012, NBN Diabetes Telehealth in Townsville http://www.dbcde.gov.au/funding_and_programs/digital_regions_initiative/nbn_diabetes_telehealth_trial_in_townsville