Preemptive Combat of Common Diseases in Micronesia

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PALIKIR — The Federal States of Micronesia is a sovereign nation sitting amongst the hundreds of islands in the North Pacific Ocean. The country is composed of four states: Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae, but these island groups are quite separate and distinct from each other.

Cultures and even languages have distinguished themselves from one another due to the large expanses of water between each island. The people of Chuuk are known for their skills in wood carving, while the people of Kosrae practice traditional singing and chanting. The islands unite in their fondness for music and the arts.

Severe Poverty 

Another common thread that exists amongst the islands of Micronesia is the existence of severe poverty. The country is one of the forty-five poorest countries in the world. Over 22 percent of the country is unemployed and 26 percent of the population is currently living below the poverty level. Many of the laborers are limited to small-scale, traditional methods of fishing and farming in order to provide. As a result, the people groups often live in a communal fashion, sharing labor and its outcomes.

In communities where this level of extreme poverty exists, it is rather common to find a lack of quality healthcare. The islands of Micronesia are no exception. Rather, the country hosts several serious health issues, many of which pose risks to travelers. As a result, analysts from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) regularly update online profiles regarding health concerns on the islands.

Poor Sanitation and Water Management Systems

Some of the most common diseases in Micronesia are born from poor sanitation and water management systems, such as chronic diarrhea. A contributing factor to the problems of quality maintenance are simple geographical facts: the islands are relatively small in size, and the freshwater resources are limited because of that.

With climates shifting and weather patterns changing, Micronesians readily expect additional challenges during season of droughts and floods. Fortunately, given the islanders experiences with these obstacles, many have been able to adapt and prepare by acting preemptively. Due to their efforts, the islands all host reservoirs to catch and store excess water to use during dry seasons.

Water on the islands plays an important role concerning other health issues. For example, the CDC suggests travelers prepare for their visit to the islands by getting travel vaccines for Hepatitis A and Typhoid, both of which are amongst the most common diseases in Micronesia given the fact the diseases spread by contaminated food and water. Given most of Micronesia is not heavily urbanized, the risk for water contamination is significant.

Mosquitos

Another health concern for those in or traveling to Micronesia is, again, related to water. Mosquitos, which are naturally drawn to wet environments, pose a risk on the islands specifically to pregnant women and couples planning pregnancy via the Zika virus. While resources may be limited on the islands, the CDC encourages mosquito bite prevention methods along with the use of condoms to protect the people on the island, but also to prevent Zika from being carried off the island with travelers.

In the past, mosquitos have posed other threats by carrying diseases like Chikungunya, which has been associated with substantial morbidity where outbreaks occur.

To avoid the common diseases in Micronesia, islanders and travelers alike should look to eat and drink safely, and prevent and treat bug bites appropriately. The famously beautiful islands of Micronesia are otherwise ready to be explored.

Taylor Elkins
Photo: Flickr

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About Author

Taylor Elkins

Taylor lives in Raleigh, NC. Her background is in biology and her current academic interests are in law and general advocacy projects. In her free time Taylor plays hand drums for a worship group, runs races, and walks dogs for the SPCA.

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