The influence of his father and an advertisement for a scholarship encouraged Urijah Liligeto to begin his journey as a healthcare professional who is now helping his country make choices to improve quality of life.
That country is the Solomon Islands, where non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and those related to the heart and lungs are the leading causes of death. Liligeto is well placed to respond. Completing a graduate diploma in lifestyle medicine from Avondale University led to a role with the World Health Organization as a public health officer for noncommunicable diseases.
“I provide technical expertise to ensure activities for reducing or preventing NCDs in the Solomons are effectively implemented and monitored,” says Liligeto. He works with donor partners and the government’s Ministry of Health and Medical Services. He also brings contacts with faith-based organisations, including the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Despite the church’s position on health, which is a point of difference with other denominations, Liligeto sees a gap between what is preached and practised. The ease of access to fast food and the limited access to vegetarian food in urban areas could be part of the problem, as could the lack of health education experience and training among church leaders. Liligeto says, “They should be health educators as much as gospel preachers.”
Liliget enrolled at Avondale after his father, Pastor Wilfred Liligeto, an alumnus, showed him an advertisement in Adventist Record for the Pacific Partnership Scholarship. “Dad and I saw this as an opportunity to be a qualified health worker, which would equip me for service to my church and my community.”
Avondale planned to offer only one scholarship, but a record response to an offering collected in Adventist churches across the South Pacific in 2016 enabled it to offer three. Urijah and the other recipients received a full fee waiver to complete the graduate certificate. Four years later, Urijah has now completed the graduate diploma and is already enrolled in the new Master of Lifestyle Medicine program. He describes the scholarship as a blessing. “I wouldn’t have been able to complete the degree without it,” he says. “The aim of the scholarship is to educate leaders in the South Pacific so they can become champions for and advocates of a healthy lifestyle. Well, that’s me. I want to help my people fight this NCD crisis.”
Integrating lifestyle medicine principles into his lectures and lessons helped students in Urijah’s nursing, public health, and nutrition and dietetic classes at Solomon Islands National University understand the root causes of noncommunicable diseases. “These future frontline healthcare workers will be the ones encouraging the patients who’ll visit them at clinics or in hospitals to make healthy lifestyle choices.” With a bachelor’s degree in biomedical science and a master’s degree in clinical immunology, Urijah dreams of developing postgraduate courses in lifestyle medicine at the university and establishing a research-based wellness centre offering lifestyle interventions to prevent or manage chronic illness.
Urijah will receive the John Ballard Trim Health Ministry Prize for outstanding achievement in the study of holistic health and well-being and its application in the community when he graduates in April. “Dad passed away before I could complete my studies in lifestyle medicine, but I’m sure he’ll be proud of me. I’m driven to carry on his wish for me to become a health leader in the church.”