NUKU’ALOFA — The Kingdom of Tonga is an island nation in the south Pacific, east of Australia. It is a sparsely populated country that consists of numerous islands far removed from many communicable diseases that can spread in other regions of the world. Nevertheless, certain common diseases in Tonga disproportionately affect the population as a whole.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warn travelers that they can contract diseases such as hepatitis A, hepatitis B and typhoid from contaminated food and water. A less prevalent disease that is present in Tonga is Zika virus, a virus that can spread through sexual activity and mosquito bites.
Although communicable diseases are present in Tonga, they are not especially debilitating for the population. Perhaps the most notable and problematic diseases in Tonga are non-communicable diseases that develop from factors such as diet and lifestyle choices.
Between 2005 and 2015, eight out of the 10 leading causes of death were non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Nine out of 10 of the primary causes of disability in Tonga were non-communicable diseases as well.
Non-communicable diseases such as obesity, lung cancer, high blood pressure and diabetes are largely caused by the concerning prominence of unhealthy eating, tobacco and alcohol use, physical inactivity and other factors among the Tongan population.
These non-communicable diseases have worsened significantly over time due to changing lifestyle choices, particularly changes in the availability and popularity of dietary options in Tonga. Prior to the mid-twentieth century, Tonga suffered far less from non-communicable diseases such as obesity and heart disease, largely because the population lived off of a healthier, leaner Polynesian diet. Over time, Western countries sold Tonga larger amounts of fatty meats rejected by Western markets, as well as unhealthy canned foods and sugary drinks.
The influx of unhealthy food and drink from the West, combined with the Tongan culture’s disposition towards abundance, has made the Tongan population one of the most obese in the world. More than half of Tongan men and 69.1 percent of Tongan women are obese, and many suffer from related non-communicable diseases.
In general, the most concerning common diseases in Tonga are non-communicable and connected to the population’s lifestyle. The Kingdom of Tonga faces many challenges in the fight against non-communicable diseases, namely counteracting the unhealthy influence of imported goods and getting the island population to change their lifestyles for the sake of their own health.
– Isidro Rafael Santa Maria