BY AGNES MENANOPO
THE betel nut business is well entwined in the Solomon Islands economy with nearly half of the country’s households selling the addictive nut as a cash crop.
The production and sale of betel nut is such an essential source of income that it has created a huge problem for health authorities. The question is – How can they tackle a looming health bill caused by betel nut chewing when the poorest of households rely on the income from selling it for their food, school fees and medicines?
Across the country more than 80% of all people were found to chew betel nut, slightly more men (84%) than women (76%), shows research by Professor Stephen Pratt of the University of the South Pacific.
Malaita was the leading province for betel nut chewers topping the statistics at 86% while Guadalcanal was 66%, Prof Pratt said at a lecture at Solomon Islands National University on Wednesday.
The adverse health effects of betel nut include oral cancer, and cancer of the pharynx and esophagus. It can lead to asthma, and can have adverse effects on newborns of chronic betel nut users.
Betel nut chewers tend to have higher blood pressure than non-users and suffer from hypertension. The spitting of betel nut juice in public places helps transmit and spread respiratory infections.
The majority of betel nut chewers are aware that betel nut consumption causes mouth cancer.
Betel nut chewers spend on average more than $50 a day, over $330 a week or close to an incredible $17,600 a year. With the minimum wage in Honiara at $8 an hour someone working 40 hours a week would not even earn the average weekly spend on betel nut.
A recent World Health Organization report found that a Solomon Islands betel nut seller could earn up to $63 a day selling the addictive nut.
Health professionals reported that they had seen patients with medical problems specifically associated with betel nut consumption in the previous month.