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By Haldee V. Eugenio

TINIAN, Northern Mariana Islands (October 19, 2000 - Marianas Variety/PINA Nius Online)---With a rise in the number of communicable and non-communicable diseases in the region, the Pacific Islands Health Officers Association has pushed for greater prevention programs.

Public health programs are not just sound health approaches but are also sound economic and political programs, association president Joseph Kevin Villagomez told the association's conference. Villagomez is the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands Department of Public Health Secretary.

The association's conference in Tinian brought together health secretaries and ministers. The association is geared towards medical care, promoting healthy lifestyles, preventing diseases and injuries and protecting the environment.

Villagomez told how communicable diseases like tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS as well as non-communicable diseases like cardiovascular problems, diabetes and cancer are on the rise in the Pacific region.

At risk are those most vulnerable -- children, women, the elderly and the poor -- said Villagomez.

Villagomez said one of their greatest health and development challenges is the growing gap in the Pacific between the "haves" and "have nots."

Northern Marianas Governor Pedro P. Tenorio told the conference that "prevention" must continue to be the keystone of the health care agenda.

"We know that investment in the long-term public health programs will go beyond the short-term budgetary gains in diverting money elsewhere," he said.

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