The Hon Minister for Health and Medical Services,
Dr Ifereimi Waqainabete;

The Acting Head of the Division of Pacific Technical
Support, WHO Suva Office, Dr Akeem Ali;
Members of the Harvard Medical School Global Surgery

Division and the Royal Australasian College of Surgeon Connected Virtually for the Meeting;
Staff of the Health Ministry from all Health Divisions in Fiji;
Invited Guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Bula vinaka and good morning to you all.

I am pleased to be here to open this important consultation workshop for the development of the first ever National Surgical Obstetrics and Anaesthesia Plan for Fiji because improving access to surgeries that can save lives and improve the quality of life for Fijians is one of the most important things we can do in our healthcare system. I am particularly pleased that this 2-day forum is not just a discussion among health professionals, but includes the people who use health services. So, today we bring together health staff from all divisions of Fiji, but tomorrow we will have a full dialogue with representatives of the wider community.

The community perspective on how health services should be delivered in Fiji over the next five years will be critical to good planning, wise use of resources—and eventually to sound execution.

The need to develop a National Surgical Obstetric and Anaesthesia Plan for Fiji has risen from the global recognition that there is a huge unmet need for surgical care throughout the world. Every year, more than 313 million surgical procedures are performed globally for illnesses, accidents and common conditions across the medical spectrum. But only six per cent of these procedures occur in the poorest countries, where over a third of the world’s population lives.

Our record in Fiji is better, but our goal is to be on a par with the most developed countries. Our people deserve no less.

Human life and quality of life are in the balance. The World Health Organisation estimates that an additional 143 million surgical procedures are needed in low- and middle-income countries each year to save lives and prevent disability for surgically treatable diseases. The World Health Assembly has taken this on as a priority. It has called on Member States to identify and prioritize a core set of emergency and essential surgical care that should be made available both at the primary level and at the hospital of first-referral.

It has also called on Member States to strive for universal access to safe and quality emergency surgical and trauma care for all, without financial hardship. Fiji embraces this goal, of course, but I can tell you that Fiji did not need any prodding to make this a priority.

Our infrastructure to deliver this kind of care is better than in most developing countries, but we want to improve it. A survey conducted in 2017 revealed that 67 per cent of our population can access specialist surgical care within two hours of their homes, that we have 5.4 surgeons and surgical support personnel per 100,000 people, and our mortality rate related to surgery was point eight per cent.
I expect that these indicators have improved over the last four years given the Health Ministry’s greater focus on specialist training for doctors and other health professionals, and the increased effort on outreach services. Over the next two days, you will focus on the need to consolidate what we have achieved and to keep improving.

This meeting comes as the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have arrived in the country, and although the pandemic bears no direct relationship to the subject you are discussing, the fact that we are about to begin vaccinating reminds us that health care is a joint responsibility. Government, health professionals and the community work together to make Fiji healthy.
We began vaccinating yesterday, targeting 6,000 frontline individuals. That is our first step on the road to national recovery, and I appeal to all Fijians to support the Health Ministry as we roll out the vaccination program for COVID-19. Your Government is committed to vaccinate all eligible candidates who are 18 years and over according to the Ministry’s expert advice as soon as is physically possible. These vaccines work, they are safe, and they are the key to our economic recovery.

I would like to thank the WHO once again and the COVAX facility for providing those first 12,000 doses of vaccine, and we look forward to receiving the rest of vaccines under this arrangement soon.

The vaccine is part of the arsenal of public health measures that we have employed to date, that we are relying on to protect our people and prepare our nation to re-engage with the rest of the world and reclaim the position in global affairs we’ve worked so hard to achieve. I know Fijians are keen to register and be vaccinated. We are working on procuring all of the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines we need to see that our people are immunized alongside the citizens of developed nations – we will not allow ourselves to be left behind.

Over these next two days, you will plan for the future of surgical care and health care services for the nation.

Healthcare is a critical service. Providing health services and a healthy environment is the key to a wealthy and economically productive nation. It is a moral responsibility. And it is one of the first duties any government owes to its people, along with security and education,

Please make the most of this opportunity. Make the best use of the technical expertise at hand, listen to the voice of the community, and put together a plan that will serve our people well and help our nation grow and prosper.

My best wishes for a fruitful forum, and I am happy to declare the Consultation Forum open.

Vinaka vakalevu and thank you.

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