On Thursday, 30th May 2019, His Majesty King Tupou VI opened the Parliamentary session for 2019/2020. In his opening speech, one of the priorities he stressed was something he repeated from the opening of the Parliamentary session last year. The King urged the need for our leaders to work on improving the health of Tongans; stating that health is the mental and physical condition of an individual.
“A healthier Tonga” is so easily said by His Majesty, but how easily can that be executed by our leaders?
Currently, Tonga stands as the second most obese country in the world. The number of people affected by illnesses, be it Non-Communicable Diseases or Communicable Disease continues to rise E.g. Heart disease, diabetes, STI’s. In research conducted this year by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Youth Division also found that mental health illnesses are a priority issue among our youth. Coupled with the increasing health concerns of our people, and the King’s emphasis on the topic, it is clear that health has not been made a priority in Tonga at most levels of society.
Better health for our people is a necessity for the overall progress and productivity of our nation. If it’s not a priority among the majority of our people though, how about the people His Majesty’s message was intended for? Hearing The King’s remarks is one thing, and delivering the results is another. The leader of the Government for example, as it has been publicly documented, is in and out of hospital. Yet, he remains in a job that demands great physical and mental strength. So, how are we as a nation to take health seriously or directions from “the top” if we see our own Prime Minister model that health is not a priority? The Prime Minister admitted that his doctor has advised him to not engage in any intensive mental activity which is what being Prime Minister for any country entails. Ultimately, if the Prime Minister is taking his health seriously, as a result, he is currently being paid to not work at all which raises further concerns outside of health. With this being the case, we are then encouraged to look at his cabinet members. At face value one can argue that the King spoke to people who clearly do not believe that health is a priority for themselves let alone our country. The new appointment of our Minister for Health at the Executive Board for WHO is not enough. One of our greatest values as a nation is our collectiveness and so we need to champion the change we want to see by requiring ALL to focus on their health, first and foremost, including our leaders. Bearing this in mind, it brings us to the question, how is Tonga going to achieve better health if the majority of our country’s decision makers do not lead by example?
His Majesty defined health as being both the physical and mental conditions of an individual. The inclusion of the latter came at a perfect time with the drafting of Tonga’s first ever National Youth Policy (NYP) by the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA). The NYP’s first priority is Health and Capabilities with mental health being a focus area. This priority was founded by MIA through consultations with various youth groups and individuals across our Kingdom, on mainland Tongatapu and all our outer islands as well. His Majesty highlighting the need for a healthier Tonga, supports the findings of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, although unintentional, this is the type of cohesive leadership that Tonga needs to see more of in order for any progress to be made.
While His Majesty’s address was deliberate for members of parliament, the message was broadcasted nationwide for all Tongan nationals to hear. This is very important as a hallmark that our county can no longer rely solely on our national and traditional leaders to pave the way for us. “A healthier Tonga” cannot be achieved by our leaders until they prioritize health for themselves and work cohesively with all ministries and stakeholders including the most important stakeholder and our largest demographic, youth. Youth engagement is a must. As the majority of Tonga’s population, the most physically active and healthy members of society, youth need to be used as catalysts for this change that the country desperately needs to see. Youth must also recognize that this is their duty as they hold the future of Tonga’s life in their hands. The King implied that youth are resources, which we are, but we are also this country’s most valuable asset. When invested in, what can be delivered are the results we all yearn for – a prosperous, safe and healthy Tonga.