A World Health Organization (WHO) specialist in nutrition and physical activity has called on health experts from around the region to strengthen their health systems to combat the non-communicable disease (NCD) crisis.

Speaking at the Pacific NCD Forum underway in Nuku'alofa, Dr Temo Waqanivalu, the Technical Officer for Nutrition and Physical Activity at WHO in Fiji, says there is a need for strategic planning and strategic thinking to understand the whole system.

'We need to examine the issues and assumptions and challenge what we have done before and choose a better course of action.'

Dr Temo told delegates that the crisis stems not only from the high prevalence of NCDs itself but also from the fact that the region's health systems are being crippled by NCDs. The forum heard from delegates that the growing costs of diabetes, heart disease and cancer would absorb more and more health service resources in their countries.

Dr Temo said that health systems in the region are not in a position to cater for the demand as compared to developed countries, and therefore there is a need to choose a better course of action.

He noted that, partially as a result of awareness campaigns over recent years, demand for health services relating to NCDs was increasing.

Dr Temo said this requires health systems to be more comprehensive, more oriented to the promotion of health and well-being, and more focused on a 'whole-of-government' multi-sectoral approach.

Dr Ezekiel Nukuro, the Technical Officer for Human Resources and Health Systems for WHO's South Pacific Office, said that unless primary health care systems have the capacity to prevent and treat hypertension and diabetes and mobilise the community to respond to the services, they may be a long way from solving the crisis.

Speaking on behalf of Dr Dong-il Ahn, the WHO Representative in the South Pacific, Dr Nukuro said that there is a need to orient health systems toward the whole-of-government approach, hence the encouragement to engage with other sectors in addressing this major killer.

'It is only in working together that our goals of prevention and control can be achieved,' he said.

Along with the calls to step up action, the speakers issued a call for health systems to collaborate better with the many local, regional and global partners. It is hoped that such collaboration will intensify after the UN high level meeting on NCDs in September.