The Minister for Health & Medical Services, Dr Ifereimi Waqainabete;
The Permanent Secretary for Health and Medical Services, Dr James Fong;
The Medical Superintendent and Staff of CWM Hospital;
The Medical Superintendent and Staff of St Giles Hospital;
Members of the Hospital Board of Visitors;
Invited Guests;
Members of the Media;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Good Morning and Bula vinaka to you all!

It is a pleasure to be here this morning to commission two critically important projects by the Ministry of Health and Medical Services – both of which will help us deliver higher quality healthcare that our people can count on — women most especially.

Earlier today, we were at the CWM Hospital to inspect the brand-new state-of-the-art Hyperbaric Chamber. The machine, worth more than Half a Million Dollars, was purchased by my Government from Totalmat Industries Limited in Brazil; one of the most reputable Hyperbaric Chamber manufacturers in the world.

In the back of the mind of every diver is the fear of the bends. I know because I used to dive myself. For those who may not know, the bends are what doctors call decompression sickness. The Chamber at CWM will be used for the treatment of Decompression Sickness which can cause muscle weakness, paralysis, loss of consciousness and even death. Immediate treatment in a decompression chamber is the only way a diver can make a full recovery.

Fiji is world-renowned for being a shark, reef, and deep-sea diving destination, with tens of thousands of divers visiting our islands each year. As our Tourism Industry continues its rapid recovery, professionals, and enthusiasts from all over the world can dive our beautiful waters with a new level of assurance that we possess the most advanced life-saving equipment in the world. This Chamber will save lives – you can count on it.

The new Chamber replaces the old one that was used for close to 20 years, and which had been obtained second-hand in the year 2000. The pandemic delayed the installation of the Chamber as we could not get the company engineers into Fiji until June this year to complete the installation process.

The Chamber is big enough to allow a medical team to treat up to four patients in a single session, and ensuring we actually save money while saving lives by making more efficient use of patient resources.

Now, Ladies and Gentlemen, while many of us may be familiar with the use of hyperbaric technology in treating divers, what you might not know is just how useful the Chamber is in the treatment of large and chronic wounds related to diabetes and other chronic diseases.

Hyperbaric oxygen treatment has been shown to speed up the healing of large, infected wounds that would otherwise remain open, leading to eventual limb amputation. Given Fiji’s current NCD crisis, the Chamber will benefit the tens of thousands of Fijians who live with diabetes in our communities.

Any technology that can provide hope and prevent a family from losing a mother, father, auntie, uncle or breadwinner, or having a physical impairment inflicted on a loved one, is an investment that my Government will always make. At the end of the day, the health, well-being, and security of the Fijian People remain our top-most priority.

Which is also why we are gathered here today to commission the newly refurbished Female Ward and Administration building at Fiji’s only specialist national referral hospital for mental health – Saint Giles.

Currently catering to 132 inpatients, the Hospital’s $1 Million upgrade has seen a deteriorating building converted into a 13-bed unit for female patients who are transitioning to go home for short term leave or who are being discharged from inpatient care.

Similarly, the new Administration Building used to be the old Medical Superintendent Staff quarters, but now houses the Doctors On-Call Room, a mini conference room, Hospital registry and the staff pantry.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to take this opportunity to remind my fellow Fijians of the toxic stigma, shame and bullying that still surrounds the area of mental health.

In a time when we have access to so much information, literally in the palm of our hand; when we know that challenges related to mental health can affect any of us in the course of our lives; and when we know that a mental health issue is exactly the same as having an illness or disease in any other part of the body where you would require medical attention – I am at a loss as to how so many people continue to propagate a culture of taboo and silence.

Every time someone uses words like “ulukau”, “nut”, or “pagala” – they contribute to the stigmatization and shame that stop so many Fijians from seeking mental health treatment; in some cases, forcing them instead to end their own lives.

In just two days’ time, we will commemorate World Suicide Prevention Day. I challenge all of you here to reflect on the burden of mental illness and suicide in Fiji – and push those around you to do the same.

Whether it is the devastation wreaked by a category 5 severe Tropical Cyclone or a once in a century pandemic; losing a loved one or being let go from a job – there are only too many tragedies that can disrupt our physical and social well-being and cause an illness of the mind.

Addressing mental health illness in Fiji requires our combined effort – Government machinery together with the community through avenues such as civil society and youth-led advocacy.

As made evident in the 2022-2023 National Budget, we have not shied away from our responsibilities to the health of the Fijian People. We have allocated One Million Dollars for the Free GP and Dental Scheme; so far, 38 registered private GPs are providing medical services to ordinary Fijians in Viti Levu and Vanua Levu with all costs completely covered by Government.

The Ministry of Health and Medical Services has been allocated a total of $395.1 Million Dollars for this financial year, which includes multi-million-dollar funding to upgrade the Labasa, Savusavu and CWM Hospitals.

It also means improvements in the salaries and benefits of our hard-working healthcare workers.

In line with our whole of Government approach, $100,000 has been specifically allocated to support vulnerable women and men that have been forced to live on the streets due to mental illness. The new initiative for the Ministry of Women, Children, and Poverty Alleviation includes grants for organizations providing street dwellers with psycho-social support.

This is part of a $147.7 Million Dollars allocation to the Ministry of Women, Children, and Poverty Alleviation, to support an inclusive social safety-net for Fiji’s most vulnerable groups. This includes the Child Protection Allowance, the Poverty Benefit Scheme, and the Disabilities Scheme.

Ladies and Gentlemen, before I conclude, I want to mention here something I said in Parliament last week: no matter how many obstacles must be overcome, how tedious or time-consuming the process is, or even how much it costs – nothing is worth more to my Government than the well-being of our people. In this context, that means access to quality life-saving healthcare.

With these words, I hereby declare the New Female Ward and New Administration Building at St Giles Hospital and the Hyperbaric Chamber at CWM Hospital officially open to the Fijian people.

Vinaka Vakalevu – Thank you.

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