New magazine shines light on Pacific’s health issues

Dev Nadkarni

It has been known for some time now that people of Pacific island origin living in New Zealand find themselves overrepresented in health-related statistics – particularly around lifestyle ailments. Three in every five Pacific Islanders is obese, three times more islanders have diabetes and markedly more Pacific people have oral and mental health issues than other groups.

This is a major worry for New Zealand’s health authorities and while the concerned government ministries have continuing information dissemination and awareness generation programmes across different media, there has not been a regular, periodic media vehicle to address Pacific health concerns aimed at the general Pacific Island audience in the country.

A new quarterly magazine titled ‘Pacific Peoples Health’ launched in January 2014 plans to change that. Oceania Media, which has published the popular and successful six-issues a year Spasifik magazine for a decade now, is the team behind this new, more specialised offering. Publisher and editor Innes Logan says there has been a growing demand for covering more health stories over the past few years.

“I think there has been a general acceptance with the way we cover health stories – we don’t shirk from the stats but provide stories which our people engage in. For Pacific people, the lack of engagement and access to the health system has been one of the barriers,” Logan told Islands Business. Planned as a quarterly, the magazine also has an online edition.

Asked about the wisdom behind a conventional, paper-based magazine in the age of the tablet and smartphone Logan said, “I believe print still has its value. People spend more time reading print rather than online where it’s easier to get sidetracked. It’s amazing how many people who have seen it online have requested a hard copy.”

The magazine is distributed at retail outlets nationwide without a cover price and is available on subscription. “The sheer size of the [health] problem meant we needed to engage with more of the population. So we increased the print run and have calculated on gaining more advertising to cover the costs. Like all such ventures, there’s risk, but the initial response has been great and we’re confident it will pay off,” Logan added.

The first issue covers a mixture of key health issues that affect the community (the recently published Child Poverty Report, aged care, dangers of fizzy drinks); personal stories (Samoan rugby player Peter Fatialofa’s untimely death); inspirational people (48-year-old Auckland father of six Andrew Fifita-Lamb, who ran the 160-kilometre round the mountain race in Taranaki wearing only homemade jandals); statistics; healthcare tips; key contacts related to healthcare and fitness besides other content.

At present, Spasifik’s small editorial team puts together the new magazine along with a couple of contributors. “But we’ll look to have more specialists providing their contribution is suitable for a mass audience,” Logan said.

Pacific organisations in the islands as well as from the growing Pacific communities in Australia and the United States have contacted Oceania Media since the launch of the new magazine. “They don’t have access to the in-depth health stats New Zealand accumulates for its population but they say the stats in their country would be even worse – particularly the US Pacific community. The stats are still relevant to the islands. I’d like to see it available in the islands,” Logan said.

Though it is early days, Logan said the magazine has been received positively. “Readers generally like the mix of content, and they’re generally more responsive to a ‘by Pacific, for Pacific’ approach.” Stressing the importance of the ‘by Pacific, for Pacific’ approach he said, “For a variety of reasons many Pacific people have an instant expectation that mainstream media coverage on such issues will be generally negative and brown-beating. That expectation isn’t always justified but such perceptions will prevent worthwhile engagement from the outset.”

Logan is confident the new magazine will go some way in making a difference to Pacific people’s attitude to healthcare issues. “With the initial feedback and our longstanding track record with Spasifik, I genuinely believe it can and will make a difference. Providing attractive, engaging, accurate and relevant content and making it free and accessible, which is key,” he said.

Alarming stats

Sixty-two per cent, which translates to three in every five Pacific island adults being obese. It is a rate two and a half times as high as non-Pacific people. With one in ten diagnosed with diabetes, three times more islanders have this debilitating lifestyle disease than the non-Pacific population. Importantly, almost half of the at-risk Pacific population remains to be diagnosed. So the real scenario could be far more alarming.

Poor choices in food and drink and a lack of preventative dental care measures cause both Pacific adults and children to have a higher rate of teeth removal due to decay or other factors than non-Pacific adults and children while Pacific adults have a higher rate of mental health issues. Dwellings of Pacific island people have also been found to be of a poorer standard in terms of insulation and air circulation leading to more allergies and respiratory tract infections.   

The problem is compounded by the fact that Pacific Islanders also find themselves among the lowest earning segment in New Zealand’s income pecking order. Costs and transportation issues are the reason why nearly a third of Pacific adults cannot have their primary healthcare needs met over a 12-month period, studies show. Pacific people made up 6.9 per cent of the total New Zealand population in 2006. Their numbers are estimated to grow to 10 per cent by 2023.

Pacific Peoples Health can be accessed online at www.pacificpeopleshealth.co.nz

First appeared in Islands Business Magazine, February 2014