The British High Commissioner – His Excellency George Edgar;
The Ambassador, Republic of Korea, Her Excellency Cho Shinhee;
Government Dignitaries;
Hospital Board of Visitors;
Ex-Servicemen and Women;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Bula Vinaka and good afternoon to you all.

I suspect that most people don’t know that 80,000 Fijians have some kind of hearing impairment. That is nearly ten percent of the population, and half of them have a hearing impairment that can be considered a disability—meaning that it makes it more difficult for a person to do certain activities or to interact with the world around them.

We will now have a much better ability to spot hearing impairments early and treat them effectively thanks to this modern audiology room, which has been funded completely by the Republic of Korea through the Korea International Co-operation Agency. This is the first audiology centre in a public hospital in Fiji, and any Fijian who suspects they have ear and hearing problems can receive a free hearing test here in CWM hospital.

It will give our medical professionals the ability to spot hearing problems early and to manage treatment in an efficient way. .

This facility will bring benefits far beyond its cost. For some reason, there are more hearing and ear problems in Fiji than in most other countries. This includes children who were treated for deafness in one or both ears after being infected with a meningitis, mumps or rubella infection. Until now, there was no hearing-test facility in public hospitals, so parents had to pay for treatment in private facilities. I believe that hearing is so basic to a person’s quality of life that the Government must provide the means to detect hearing loss as early as possible.

This is fully in keeping with the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2018, which gives all persons with disabilities the right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health, the same range, quality and standard of free or affordable health care and programmes, the right to special health care designed to minimise and prevent further disabilities, and the right to health services as close as possible to their own communities.

I also want to recognize the work CWM has done to provide comfortable and relaxing space for patients and their visitors. For many years, hospitals were austere and forbidding places for family members, and even a bit frightening to patients. But today, hospitals are making great efforts to maintain a cheerful and welcoming environment.

We find that this buoys the spirits of the patients and their families. And what is most important, that helps the healing process.

Small bures have been installed around the hospital to give patients, relatives, visitors and hospital staff places to relax and rest. And the Peace Garden will also provide a tranquil place for patients to sit and stroll and get some fresh air and sunshine. This project was done with great support from the private sector, and I want to thank all those companies that have come forth to fund this important improvement in patient care.

It happens that today is Remembrance Day, and it may be fitting that we are here at Colonial War Memorial Hospital, which was built to remember the 123 Fijian and British soldiers who left our shores with their comrades in arms more than a century ago to fight in what was called The Great War—and did not return. Their names are on the plaque outside the Operator’s Room, and Colonial War Memorial Hospital stands today as a fitting memorial to those soldiers, because it is dedicated to healing. We could never bring those boys back, but we can dedicate ourselves to saving lives, curing sickness and keeping people healthy—in their name and for the good of all the people.

And we can do so in the name of all the Fijians who have answered the call to service when it came—in the Second World War, in Korea and in United Nations Peacekeeping operations around the world.

This hospital opened to the public in 1923 with 108 beds and a staff of 27, ten of whom were local nurses. There were only two doctors. Today we have more than 500 beds and a staff of around 2,000. We are a modern nation, a growing nation, and we need a modern flagship hospital.

It is very important that we observe this day humbly and reverentially. It is important that we wear the poppy, which grew in abundance in the fields of Flanders, where so many young lives were cut down. It is important that as a nation and a people we say that we will actively remember that sacrifice. I think this collective act of observance, mourning and respect is more moving and more meaningful than all the grand monuments that can be built. It is the ceremonies and the rituals we perform, the prayers we say, and the symbols we hold and wear that keep these young men alive in our hearts.

So we come today in pilgrimage to this hospital, as we do each year, to acknowledge and thank that generation for their example of selflessness and courage. They set a standard that has endured and has lived in the way Fijians have answered the call in all those other conflicts over the 102 years since the armistice that went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918.

I would like to remind everyone also that medical personnel may not take up arms, but they serve in conflict and they serve alongside our Military in all its missions. More than 300 medical personnel have served with RFMF until today—in combat,  peacekeeping, humanitarian relief and disaster response—and  most notably in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic this year.

So today we honour service and sacrifice. We especially remember those who have given their lives in combat, but we should also remember that we fight many kinds of battles. We depend on the sacrifices and dedication of the frontline workers in the fight against the COVID pandemic, which is our latest war. And we depend on the sacrifices and dedication of our Disciplined Forces and others in disaster relief. We don’t wear the poppy for those efforts, but I don’t think our fallen war heroes would mind sharing a little bit of their special day with them.

Vinaka Vakalevu and Thank you.

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