Health report: Solomon Is­lands

Health care in the Solomon Is­lands is slowly on the im­prove, but ed­u­ca­tion and con­tra­cep­tion still prove to be the main chal­lenges.

Element - - World - By Sam Eich­blatt

In the Solomon Is­lands cap­i­tal of Ho­niara, there’s a wry joke about its main hospi­tal. The col­lo­quial pid­gin ex­pres­sion “numba wan” trans­lates as “the best”, while Cen­tral Hospi­tal’s lo­cal name is Num­ber Nine.

Rust and water stains creep across the net­work of cov­ered walk­ways and lat­tice brick­work, while dis­used equip­ment stands in­con­gru­ously out­side wards in the trop­i­cal sun. In the gy­nae­col­ogy ward, a hand­writ­ten sign marks the ul­tra­sound scan­ning room, sup­ported by a New Zealand-reg­is­tered char­ity, the Pa­cific So­ci­ety for Re­pro­duc­tive Health (PSRH).

A relic of the US-led Pa­cific cam­paign of the 1940s, Num­ber Nine is the largest hospi­tal in the coun­try. To­day, signs of a more be­nign oc­cu­pa­tion are ev­ery­where; dozens of aid agen­cies clus­ter on Ho­niara’s streets, from Ox­fam to UNIFEM, all work­ing for one pur­pose — to help the coun­try move for­ward as an in­de­pen­dent na­tion.

In global terms, the ar­chi­pel­ago is one of our clos­est neigh­bours, but its health sys­tem falls far be­low in­ter­na­tional stan­dards, as do many other as­pects of its devel­op­ment.

In 1999, ten­sions be­tween the Poly­ne­sian and Me­lane­sian pop­u­la­tions erupted into in­ter­nal con­flict, which set­tled down when the Re­gional As­sis­tance Mis­sion to Solomon Is­lands (RAMSI) ar­rived. This in­cluded po­lice and troops from Aus­tralia, New Zealand and other Pa­cific coun­tries, which nine years on are still in place, act­ing as the Solomon’s pri­mary se­cu­rity force and sup­port­ing many other parts of its in­fra­struc­ture, in­clud­ing health ser­vices.

Num­ber Nine’s new clinic, do­nated by the Tai­wanese government, in­spires scep­ti­cism in El­e­ment’s guide, New Zealand nurse and vol­un­teer Bev­erly Her­bert. The is­lands are rich in min­er­als and gold, and fish­ing rights are up for grabs. As in many de­vel­op­ing na­tions, it’s a sit­u­a­tion that could eas­ily be ex­ploited.

In the post-natal ward, on the other hand, the chart as­sign­ing beds is full. Preg­nancy rates are ris­ing, and in this im­pov­er­ished coun­try with a 98.5% paid-up church­go­ing pop­u­la­tion, the Catholic Church still pub­licly frowns on con­tra­cep­tion. Abor­tion is il­le­gal. It’s not un­usual for a woman to give birth to eight or ten chil­dren, with ob­vi­ous fol­low-on ef­fects for her and the wider com­mu­nity.

At Ho­niara’s Planned Par­ent­hood As­so­ci­a­tion — the coun­try’s only fam­ily-plan­ning ser­vice and one of the few places con­doms are freely avail­able — di­rec­tor Dr. Michael Salini re­ports much of his staff’s time is spent coun­selling women who come in ask­ing for abor­tions, and again when they re­turn af­ter a botched back­woods abor­tion.

Sixty seven per­cent of women give birth while still in their teens, and a whop­ping 59% of the pop­u­la­tion is now un­der 25 years of age. There’s a steady bat­tle go­ing on to ed­u­cate this youth­ful de­mo­graphic, not only at school but in terms of sex­ual and re­pro­duc­tive health.

As a re­sult, much of the work done by for­eign aid agen­cies here fo­cuses on the star­tlingly low sta­tus of the child­bear­ing half of the pop­u­la­tion. In a re­cent Amnesty In­ter­na­tional report, di­rec­tor Michael Holmes de­scribed the is­sue of vi­o­lence against women as “a hu­man rights is­sue of epic pro­por­tions”. Al­most all (96%) women report prob­lems in ac­cess­ing health­care, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est De­mo­graphic Health Sur­vey.

The UN Devel­op­ment Pro­gramme (UNDP), lead by former Prime Min­is­ter He­len Clark also puts uni­ver­sal ed­u­ca­tion, gen­der equal­ity, and sex­ual and re­pro­duc­tive health at the cen­tre of its Mil­len­nium Devel­op­ment Goals. This is not a niche is­sue, but the prin­ci­ple is­sue for the Solomons’ so­cial and eco­nomic sta­bil­ity, and over the long term, sus­tain­able devel­op­ment. Ju c re u T st fo

Photo: Sam Eich­blatt

Health fa­cil­i­ties are ba­sic in Ho­niara.

Sell­ing a plas­tic bot­tle of water of one litre or less is now il­le­gal in the town of Con­cord, Mas­sachusetts in the US. From Jan­uary 1, 2013 it be­came an of­fence to sell the poly­eth­yl­ene tereph­tha­late (PET) bot­tles, with a $25 fine for the first of­fence, ris­ing to $50 for a sec­ond of­fence. The ini­tia­tive is the fruition of a three-year cam­paign by 84-year-old Con­cord res­i­dent and ac­tivist Jean Hill.

One of the UK’s largest su­per­mar­ket groups has in­stalled al­most 70,000 pho­tovoltaic pan­els across 169 stores, with the re­sult that it col­lec­tively hosts the big­gest so­lar ar­ray in the United King­dom and Europe. This will re­duce the to­tal car­bon emis­sions of the Sains­bury’s su­per­mar­ket group by ap­prox­i­mately 6,800 tonnes per year, as well as cut­ting each store’s en­ergy costs.

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