Fiji National University (FNU) in collaboration with the University of Sydney, Edith Cowan University, Ministry of Health and Medical Services Fiji, Wildlife Conservation Society and the World Health Organization (WHO) participated in a week-long mid-term review workshop for the Watershed Interventions for Systems Health (WISH) project in Pacific Harbour.

WISH is a
three-year project that was awarded a AUD2.01 million grant by the National
Health & Medical Research Council of Australia in July 2018, which seeks to optimise water, sanitation and catchment
management, improve outbreak response and minimise the impact of
water-borne diseases in Fiji.

Representing
FNU is College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences’ (CMNHS) Associate Dean
Research, Dr Donald Wilson, who said: “Water-borne
diseases are endemic in Fiji with 20 reported typhoid outbreaks since 2005, an
outbreak of dengue affecting 27,000 in 2013-14 and a three-fold increase in
leptospirosis since the Tropical Cyclone Winston in 2016”.

“There is growing evidence that poor land practices can
contribute to the spread of waterborne diseases such as typhoid, leptospirosis
and dengue in the tropics.”

“For
instance, the growing number of cases of typhoid is associated with vegetation
removal from catchments and leptospirosis with livestock sharing waterbodies
with humans.”

Dr
Wilson said that those same poor land practices also had negative impacts on
downstream freshwater and marine resources on which local people rely for food,
livelihoods and cultural practice.

“The project also
aims to create evidence around community-based water management systems and is
anticipated to provide local solutions that are most likely to positively
reduce disease burdens.”  

A multi-sectoral
project, WISH is the first of its kind for Fiji, and is taking an integrated
and preventative approach to benefit the health and well-being of people and
their surroundings.

Working across the five
river sub-catchments located in Tailevu, Namosi, Lomaiviti and Bua provinces,
all of which had documented cases of typhoid, leptospirosis and dengue, the project focuses on targeted and integrated upstream
catchment management and policy implementation to reduce the spread of
disease and improve downstream ecosystem condition.

“The week-long
workshop provided a platform for the participants to discuss the (key)
achievements so far,” WISH Fiji Chief Investigator, Professor Joel Negin
commented.

“(We) also planned
the next phases of the project which includes, working with communities to
co-design action plans and train the next generation of health
systems leaders, specifically in effectively managing water resources,
improving the health of people, the state of environment, and developing a
diversity of interventions,” Professor Negin said.

According to him, the
creation of inclusive decision-making processes with government, provincial
offices and local communities was essential for long-term implementation.

“The project has
received the endorsement from key ministries, the Centre for Disease Control,
the National Drinking Water Quality Committee, the World Health Organization
(WHO) and UNICEF.”

WISH Fiji
Partners, Development Partners, Government Partners including Water Authority
of Fiji, Ministry of iTaukei Affairs, Department of Mineral Resource
Department, Water and Sewage Department and Ministry of Health staff.

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