‘Be your own best medicine!’ – Gender and Lifestyle Medicine Awareness Lectures in support of the Palau Ministry of Health.

Palau – the Pacific island nation made of 200 pristine islands and reefs in the Western Pacific – is one of the world’s last countries still free of the coronavirus. However, there are remaining health challenges owing mostly to the national-wide battle with non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

According to the World Bank, almost 18 percent of adult Palauan are living with diabetes, and about 40 percent with prediabetes may be at high risk of developing the disease. This means, more than half of the population – 11,600 people – suffer. Without proper prevention, diabetes can lead to kidney failure, loss of limbs and early death, lowering Palauan life expectancy, as well as being a major driver of poverty and inequality undermining socio-economic progress in the country.

To combat diabetes and obesity, the government of Palau has implemented several actions, such as increased taxes on tobacco to pay for healthy eating initiatives, introduced screening of students for health problems, and banned sweet drinks, junk food and other processed food in public schools. The government also launched a series of advertisements encouraging citizens to engage in a healthy diet and physical activities, ensuring access to the track and field sport facility and all gyms. Despite all these good efforts, diabetes and high blood pressure are called “lifestyle disease”, and to turn an unhealthy lifestyle into an unhealthy one requires a strong commitment from each individual in order to build new habits.

Be your own best medicine!

The good news is that the ambition for change is there. In this spirit, UNOPS, represented by Thomas Blaich, Project Manager, in collaboration with Lazarrenna Tmetchul, Vegetarian Restaurant Owner, Farmer and Nutrition Specialist and Dr. Ronaldo Raymund Reyes, General Practitioner, Optometrist by profession and a Lifestyle and CHIP Licence Facilitator, organized a series of awareness lectures in the Katies Garden – Koror State that took place between 10-14 August this year.

‘Be your own best medicine!’ lectures were attended primarily by female citizens, and inspired positive lifestyle change by focusing on whole-person health, while integrating optimal nutrition, exercise and behavioural psychology and tools. Interactive group discussions led by specialists improved participants’ knowledge of health, and increased their desire to exercise.

“These lectures were a perfect fit for our Trainer Team and ideal add-on to our ‘Family Wellness Train the Trainer Program’ to encourage both students and parents on what is achievable with Palau grown food and meals.” stated Ms Pearl L. Marumoto, Executive Director of the Belau Wellness Center. At the end of each day, the participants learned new skills in a cooking class focused on preparing healthy dishes.

Improving healthcare capacities across the islands

To strengthen national capacities in treating patients with diabetes, the government of Palau is working with UNOPS, the UN’s infrastructure and procurement specialist, in a new $1.5 million collaboration project to help improve some of the nation’s most vital health infrastructure. Funded by the India-UN Development Partnership Fund and managed by the UN Office for South-South Cooperation, UNOPS is assisting Palau’s Ministry of Health in upgrading local healthcare facilities to deliver patient-focused care, and improved safe and attractive working conditions for medical staff – both of which are key to efficient and sustainable healthcare systems that support a healthier population. The project is expected to benefit up to 21,522 people, in particular rural population and people with disability.

An inclusive gender-sensitive approach to infrastructure that leaves no one behind

However, renovating health centers cannot be done in isolation. That requires taking a holistic approach to the development including work with the communities and engaging with a wide and representative group of stakeholders at each stage of the project development. Especially, considering the long life of infrastructure, and to ensure that infrastructure development supports equal access to services – under ordinary circumstances and times of crisis – UNOPS will incorporate gender mainstreaming approaches throughout the infrastructure lifecycle particularly critical during the design stage of any project. This will ensure that the concerns and experiences of women and girls, as well as men and boys are an integral dimension of the planning, implementation and monitoring and evaluation of the project. The concept of gender and infrastructure was presented by Thomas Blaich during the ‘Gender and Lifestyle Medicine Awareness’ lectures. The lectures highlighted that gender-responsive infrastructure design has the power to address gender inequalities by responding to diverse needs in society – including women, men, girls and boys, the elderly, the physically disabled and economically disadvantaged, and can enhance sustainability, equality, and economic and social benefits for all. When all groups of users equally benefit from a project, they have shared ownership and interest in sustaining their benefits for generations to come.

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