The Fijian government subsidizes the health care system. Medical care is not free, but it is inexpensive. Fiji has three national hospitals, 16 provincial hospitals and three specialist hospitals, all located in cities or towns. More than 20 health centres, 100 nursing stations and 400 village clinics ensure that people outside the major centres receive medical care. Almost every inhabited island has an airstrip to allow doctors and nurses to fly in or to fly patients out.

Most people in Fiji enjoy good health. The country is free of many tropical diseases such as malaria, and cases of tuberculosis or amoebic dysentery are rare. However, economic development and Western culture have brought new health problems to the islands. Pollution-caused by industrial waste, untreated sewage, oil spills and poisons used in fishing-has made the drinking water unsafe in many rural communities. Some fish caught in the waters around Fiji are contaminated. Garbage disposal is a national concern. The incidence of sexually transmitted diseases and alcoholism is increasing, especially in cities. The government has established programs to educate the people about these health issues.

Occasional outbreaks of dengue fever (also called "breakbone fever") endanger babies and the elderly. This virus, carried by mosquitoes, has no cure and causes headaches, fever and muscle pains. Filariasis, a parasitic infection also spread by mosquitoes, causes fever, swollen lymph glands and blindness.

Many indigenous Fijians consult traditional healers. Healers distinguish between two types of illness: tauvimate dina ("real sickness," that is, illness caused by physical problems) and tauvimate vakatevoro (illness due to spiritual problems). Most traditional healers are older men, but in urban centres, many healers are younger women.

A visit to a healer always begins with a ritual presentation of yaqona. When the healer accepts the gift, he or she receives sacred power (mana) from ancestral spirits (vu) to diagnose the illness correctly and choose an effective treatment. Some healers specialize in massage, others in herbal remedies. Many traditional cures involve plants such as neem, a bitter herb used as a natural antibiotic. Hibiscus leaves, pounded and boiled, are given to women in labour.

   Did you know?
Kava, Fiji's most popular drink, has medicinal properties and is often prescribed as a diuretic. Too much kava-drinking, however, can lead to health problems such as kanikani, in which the skin becomes scaly and rough.