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Dia de Los Muertos – A day to remember

Parades of children in scary (i.e. adorable) outfits can be seen ghosting from door to door, haunting the doorway until someone comes out and is greeted by the customary chorus of “trick or treat”.

Spain: October 31st – Dia de Los Muertos.

The Day of the Dead –a celebration of the memories of the deceased, swept away in a sea of colourful skirts and elaborately painted, skeleton-like masks.

South Pacific: October 31st - ???

In the absence of psychedelic parades and candy-seeking children, we would like to honour the memories of those who have died by shedding light on the current state of death rates and mortality trends in the Pacific Island Countries (PICs).  

Although infant and child mortality rates are decreasing, the PICs remain as the region with the second highest probability of deaths in children aged 5 – 14, with 8 deaths/1000 children at the age of 5 (1). In fact, in 2014, countries such as Vanuatu and Nauru still had an infant mortality rate of up to 39 deaths/1000 births, and Papua New Guinea had a shocking 50 – 59 deaths/1000 births (2).

Similar trends are observed in adults, with the life expectancy of all PICs (excluding Australia and New Zealand) falling below 74 years. This is largely attributable to the high incidence and impact of non-communicable diseases, which are affecting a large proportion of the ageing population and contributing towards an early death (2).

Maternal mortality is another major area of concern, with Fiji being reported to have a MM rate of 210 deaths / 100,000 live births, Solomon Islands having a maternal mortality rate of 220 deaths / 100,000 live births, and Papua New Guinea having a maternal mortality rate of 470 deaths / 100,000 live births (3). This is in comparison to Australia, a developed Pacific country, which has one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the world of 6.8 deaths / 100,000 live births (4). These figures indicate a severe lack of adequate maternal healthcare and resources in the PICs and highlight the need for more funding/aid in the obstetric sector.

The trends in mortality levels in the PICs are often difficult to capture due to the lack of data, as well as the great variability between different regions (e.g. Melanesian and Micronesian states versus low-mortality countries such as Australia and New Zealand)(6). For the same reasons that complicate an accurate estimation of mortality rates, the true severity and significance of the mortality rates in PICs, particularly of mothers, children, and infants, is often overlooked and underreported. Dia de Los Muertos. Day of the Dead. Day of those who are dying and will continue to die of preventable deaths, unless action is taken.

Taylor R, Bampton D, Lopez AD. International Journal of Epidemiology. 2005;34(1):207-214

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