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SCU researcher highlights problems of globalisation


12 May 2004
Heart disease, diabetes and cancer are just some of the legacies of globalisation for one of the world’s newest nations, according to researcher and lecturer in Southern Cross University’s (SCU) School of Nursing and Healthcare Practices Associate Professor Stephen Kermode.

Dr Kermode has just returned from six weeks in Palau, a nation with a population of 20,000 spread across 250 islands. Located in the western part of Micronesia in the Pacific, Palau was occupied by the Japanese in World War II and then became a trust territory of the United Nations, under the US. It gained independence in 1994.

Dr Kermode said the nation, which traditionally had a very sophisticated social and political structure and high standards of health, was now facing all the same public health problems as western countries.

“The reason for my visit was to look at the impact of the West in Palau and how that was manifesting in public health,” Dr Kermode said.

He said studies done in the early 1980s showed the island nation had a high standard of health, with life expectancy similar or better than the US.

“Traditionally the Palauans live to a ripe old age and have a very healthy lifestyle. That is all changing. It was a great opportunity to look at how the process of modernisation and westernisation impacts on traditional and indigenous cultures.”

Dr Kermode said those impacts were being felt in just one generation.

“They are developing all the same problems as we are in the west – diabetes, heart disease and cancer.”

He said osteoporosis and prostate disease, which had been nearly unheard of, were now increasing along with suicide and deaths from motor vehicle accidents.

Despite the problems, Dr Kermode said the nation was working hard to counter the impacts and many elements of their culture were still intact.

Palau is a matriarchal society, in which women control property and in which the children belong to the female side of the family. While the chiefs are male, they are selected by the senior women.

Dr Kermode said since independence the nation had introduced a democratic system of government, based on the US, but the traditional chiefs maintained a great deal of power.

“They have compulsory education for people aged six to 18 years and they have a very sophisticated social and political structure.

“They have a gun free constitution … and very strict drug laws. They are one of the most environmentally conscious people in the world. They know the value of their land and resources.”

However, Dr Kermode said the nation was facing enormous pressure from outside.

“What’s going on with this latest wave of globalisation is the systematic destruction of lots of cultures. It’s like a huge steam roller. It’s inevitable and unstoppable. The only real thing people in public health can do is try and prepare for those impacts.”

Dr Kermode said he had been invited to return to Palau for a conference on men’s health later in the year.

Photo caption: Signs in Palau show the dramatic increase in cancer since 1977.

Media contact: Brigid Veale, SCU Media Liaison, 66593006 or m. 0439 680 748.