Having high blood pressure is a strong indication of future heart disease and other life threatening illnesses. When her husband was posted to Honiara for a few years, Jeanette Johnson, an experienced Australian nurse, saw this as an area where she could lend a hand.
On a previous posting to Port Moresby, she had assisted nurses at the local hospital by monitoring women in the ante-natal clinic. With Jeanette checking blood pressures and weighing the expectant mothers, the nurses had more time to assess the babies and mothers’ progress.
In Honiara, Jeanette could see many of the same issues affecting people’s blood pressure that she had seen in Papua New Guinea. She saw that a transition to a more western diet was leading to an increase in salt and sugar intake. Diets were moving away from fresh fish, fruit and vegetables to two-minute noodles, biscuits, and soft drinks.
Alcohol consumption was on the rise, with people often drinking beer when they should be hydrating with water. Through a more sedentary life style for some and a change of eating habits, obesity is creeping into the population. Upon talking to doctors, they confirmed for her that there has been a significant increase of Type 2 diabetes cases within the country.
Over the past two and a half years, Jeanette, along with numerous dedicated volunteers, has been visiting offices, businesses, sporting events, and coffee shops across Honiara to check blood pressures and talk to people about diet (particularly too much salt), exercise, stress reduction and the importance of staying hydrated. They also discuss the health impacts of chewing betel nut, cigarette smoking and drinking too much alcohol/ kwaso.
‘People who have high or low blood pressure often don’t realise that they can feel healthier, have more energy, and live longer by making small changes to their diet and lifestyle. People just get used to feeling bad all the time, and start to feel that it’s normal’ said Jeanette.
The team of volunteers usually head out weekly to one or more spots around Honiara. Jeanette says that one of the best parts of the project has been the record system initiated by a fellow volunteer. By going back to the same places, they have been able to track people’s blood pressure over time to see if things have improved and if not, discuss what may be preventing the person from making important lifestyle choices.
With basic urine testing strips, Jeanette is also able to flag anyone who may have a urinary tract infection (cystitis) or be suffering from diabetes. Anyone with a positive result for diabetes, or with worrying blood pressure, is referred straight away to a clinic or a doctor. The Ministry of Health has provided resources on topics such as diet and exercise, and copies have been distributed by the volunteers.
The group’s message is focused heavily on prevention and to get their message across, they stick to the catch phrase ‘SNAP-B’.
The project has been a very rewarding experience for Jeanette, who will be leaving Solomon Islands in March after nearly three years. She is grateful to those who have volunteered with her and for the many generous donations of photocopying, urine testing strips, blood pressure machines and batteries, and other supplies that both businesses and individuals have provided.
Although we will miss seeing her checking blood pressures along Mendana Avenue or in offices around town, Jeanette has kindly offered to provide health snippets for The Pineapple Post into the future – helping to keep us all healthy and happy.