Health Concerns in Kiribati
Key Points: Lack of clean fresh drinking water, poor sanitation facilities, physical inactivity, and nutritional issues lead to a preponderance of obesity, diabetes, and communicable diseases among I-Kiribati.
Although surrounded by the ocean, water and sanitation are issues in Kiribati. Some estimate only half to two thirds of the population have access to improved drinking water, and less than 40% have access to adequate sanitation.
In South Tarawa, the largest population center in Kiribati, the government owned Public Utilities Board (PUB) extracts water from a nearby water reserve. Yet, the demand greatly exceeds sustainable supply, and some estimate that up to two-thirds of the water is lost during transport to consumers. As a result, water is rationed – and accessible only two hours every two days, in an amount of 21 liters/day of partially treated freshwater (less than the 50 liters/day recommended by World Health Organization).
Sewerage systems are also a challenge. Even on South Tarawa, less than 30% of the households are connected with the PUB system, which is commonly blocked and dysfunctional. On outer islands (away from the more developed capital) more than 70% openly defecate on the beach.
Between 2010 and 2012, more than 35,000 cases of water-, sanitation-, and hygene-related illnesses were reported, including diarrhea, dysentery, conjunctivitis, and fungal infections including ringwork. Many remained unreported. Keep in mind that the nation has only ~100,000 people.
As a result, beyond the common diarrhea and intestinal issues, major health concerns include tuberculosis, dengue fever, leprosy, malaria and typhoid. Recently, there has been a chikungunya outbreak, with an estimated 43% of the South Tarawa population carrying the virus. These factors also lead to a high infant death rate in Kiribati, with 63 out of every 1000 children not living to their fifth birthday.
Nutrition is a significant health risk factor. Although many out islands are blessed with abundant fish and local foods, increased consumption of imported, cheap (and low quality) food that is high in salt, sugar and fat leads to an estimated 38 percent of males and 54 percent of females aged 20 years or over being classified as obese. Nearly 30% of the adult population is estimated to have diabetes. Exacerbating these issues, more than half of the population is estimated to have low levels of physical activity. Leisure-time physical activity contributes very little to total physical activity.
To address these needs, the Kiribati Health Strategic Plan lists strengthening initiatives around physical activity and health promotion initiatives for facilities and spaces for physical activity for young people as a strategic action.
Goals for Good works to encourage and provide a means to help kids to be physically active.