“Diabetes is the killer… at present, not cancer…yet.”

“Diabetes is the killer… at present, not cancer…yet.”

Sometimes you meet some inspirational people on the same journey.

I met up with Richard Tatwin this last week in Port Vila, Vanuatu. He is the Health Director of the Presbyterian Church Vanuatu (PCV). The PCV is the largest NGO health provider in Vanuatu.

Richard is a Ni Van that did his Optometry training in Melbourne and returned to Vanuatu about 12 years ago.

Richard has been running eye clinics around the Vanuatu islands for most of that time. A bit over 2 years ago he was approached to take on the Health Director role for the PCV. This involves continuing the eye clinics, supervising dental outreach and increasing nutritional education to the wider community.

That nutritional advice is very much LCHF. Eating local and seasonal, cutting way back on sugar and refined carbohydrates and recommending the saturated fats and not the polyunsaturated fats. That brought a smile to my face when I heard that!

He has great enthusiasm and ambitions for his community. We shared many common thoughts and had a great meeting.

Richard and the PCV see that they have an integral role to play in this quite religious community. The PCV has over 65000 members in their community and are trying to work at the local level by setting the example of good health. The church is recognising that physical health is as important as spiritual health and that they have a leadership role to play that is different to government.

Their major interest, as is mine, is in the prevention of non-communicable diseases (NCD) and particularly Diabetes. This is preventable, reversible and at least controllable for the vast majority of the population. Medication control is not going to happen soon in this quite impoverished community.

The PCV aim to spread information via community leaders rather than the Health Care workers. They provide training of community leaders (church community and pastors) and encourage by leading by example. Richard’s aims include making the church gatherings ‘Sugar Free Zones’ just like they have made some churches ‘Smoke Free’.

Healthy styles of living in a traditional sense are encouraged and they well understand the budgetary constraints of families with little income.

They also have played a role in encouraging tariffs on sugar sweetened beverages and refined rice. The refined rice is still very cheap but has gone up about 20% in the last few years.

It was pleasing to see on this visit that bottled water was cheaper than Coca Cola for the first time. Yay!

We covered a few topics.

Community Gatherings
Every church gathering is about local fare instead of biscuits and cakes. They are actively cutting back on rice, sugar and carbs and packaged food. Local fruits are encouraged instead of biscuits. ‘Lap lap’ traditional pudding is there for celebrations instead of cake.


A Health Committee has been developed in every church across the nation. They are advocating nutrition and exercise, and their training is coming from the PCV. They are advocating a decrease of sugar and refined carbs and that saturated natural fats are good.

They are also aiming for a set of scales, height measure, blood pressure and blood glucose monitor in each congregation and to check everyone each month. That’s where funding may help.

Dental Disease
The ‘happiest people in the world’ with the biggest smiles have an increasing problem of dental disease. It is much greater than 5 years ago and the local feeling as well as the world literature attribute that to the increase in sugar consumption, particularly in children.

Amputations in Vanuatu
This is an increasing problem. There has been no clinic or care options in Vanuatu for 16 years and most of the increasing need for prosthetic services are secondary to Diabetes complications. Rotary, the government and our Orthopaedic team are looking to trying to improve that situation. Rotary are looking at funding a training position in Australia. We may be able to help via our local department. At least the topic is being openly discussed now.

Health Videos
Richard is encouraging some local unemployed youth to make health videos at present, bringing the eating well food message to the community.

All in all I found the conversation inspiring. Richard is a bit like me in that he can see the big picture and can see the options – it all centres on education.

Will enough people listen?

If your charitable purse is open this year, then this is one NGO delivering the funds directly. They can be directed via the Uniting World group at http://www.unitingworld.org.au/…/health-i…/vanuatu-eye-care/

The Presbyterian Church Vanuatu is at www.pcv.vu