More Tongan children will be orphaned in New Zealand by rising diabetes-related deaths

There is an upward trend of Tongan children being orphaned in New Zealand due to their parents dying young because of diabetes-related conditions, an expert says.

Some Pacific Islanders, who were in their 40s, have died of diabetes, while others ended up on dialysis treatment at Middlemore Hospital.

Dr Viliami Tūtone, a Tongan nephrologist at the hospital said some Tongan orphans have been as young as 10 years old.

These children “have no mothers and the number is expected to grow”, he told Kaniva Tonga news in an exclusive interview.

“When patients are brought for dialysis their bodies have already been hugely affected by the damage to their vascular system and problems with the kidneys,” he said.

Dr Viliami Tūtone. Photo/Screenshot

Dr Tūtone said the Ministry of Health’s latest record for June 2022 showed 743 people were on dialysis at Middlemore hospital. He said 447 or 60 percent of those patients were Pasifika.

Breaking down the numbers for the Pasifika patients he said 184 were Samoans, 114 were Tongans, 88 were Cook Islanders, 31 were Fijians, 24 were Niueans and other ethnicities were six.

Dr Tūtone said the ” total number is huge”.

He said people should avoid eating fatty food and “consuming too much high-sugar soft drinks” which may lead to weight gain, diabetes, and cardiovascular conditions.

Dr Tūtone said “diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure”.

“Eating the right food and do more physical exercises could help many people avoid these chronic diseases”.

Call for change

The executive director of the Health Promotion Forum of New Zealand, Sione Tu’itahi, said the number was devastating.

Tu’itahi said the New Zealand Government spent about $80,000 a year to treat one patient on dialysis.

“This is apart from other problems, including distress caused to other members of the family who played the caring role and the negative impact on their health and their children’s education,” Tu’itahi said.

Tu’itahi called on Tongans to stay healthy and change their attitudes towards life.

Sione Tu’itahi. Photo/Screenshot

“In my role as executive role and Health Promotion of New Zealand, we are working closely with Dr Tūtone and Dr Viliami Puloka to assist all people in New Zealand including Tongans to fight against diabetes.”

Tu’itahi said people must eat the right food and think about how much they ate.

“Our lives are in our hands, not in the doctor’s hands,” Tu’itahi told Kaniva News.

It is estimated that more than 250,000 people in New Zealand have been diagnosed with diabetes, predominantly type 2.

“Within the New Zealand population, the prevalence of diabetes in Māori and Pacific populations is around three times higher than among other New Zealanders. Prevalence is also high among South Asian populations,” the Ministry of Health Website said.

According to the Tonga Health report Path to Good Health, Tonga has one of the most at-risk populations in the world for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes and obesity.

In the introduction to the report, Tonga Health Minister Dr Saia Ma’u Piukala said: NCDs will continue to cripple our families, our communities and our nation unless we are strong and take decisive action.”

Under the headline: “How communities in Tonga work together for healthier, longer lives”, the World Bank said the kingdom had one of the highest rates of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the world.

These included cardiovascular disease, cancers, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases, account for approximately 80 per cent of deaths in Tonga

“Smoking, alcohol consumption, poor diet, and lack of physical exercise have all contributed to the ever-growing burden of disease.

“However, local communities are coming together to help construct national policies in order to reverse this trend”.


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