NO DOCTORS IN NORTHERN COOK ISLANDS

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By Florence Syme-Buchanan

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (April 21, 1999 - Cook Islands News)---There are no doctors in the northern islands and hospitals in Penrhyn and Manihiki have been condemned.

This situation is not new. It has existed for well over two years. The last doctor in Pukapuka was Dr. Aumetua Taurari’i. He has been stationed at Rarotonga Hospital as the Director of Clinical Services for more than two years.

But the Ministry of Outer Islands Development (MOID), which is responsible for the delivery of health services to the outer islands, says northern islands are not being deprived of health services.

Find Doctors

MOID is now trying to find doctors prepared to go north, but the difficulty is getting qualified people interested and getting applicants approved by the Medical Council, says MOID boss Kato Tama.

He says Cook Islands doctors are reluctant to be transferred to the northern group because of poor working conditions and accommodations.

Tama says both these have to be improved before the northern group can expect any new doctors.

According to Tama, the problems were inherited by his ministry when it took over outer islands health services.

He says the problems should be sorted out "half way through the next financial year."

Penrhyn Hospital

MOID is trying to rebuild Penrhyn Hospital, but construction only takes place when "funds come in," says Kato Tama. He added aid money for the hospital project had been approved, but "final funding has not come through, so we are building it at MOID’s expense."

MOID has asked Aitutaki’s two Burmese doctors, Dr. Aung and his wife Dr. May, to find possible candidates for positions up north from their home country. Tama says they have one possible candidate. MOID is awaiting the final okay for the applicant to practice here from the Ministry of Health and the Medical Association, which have to scrutinize candidates’ qualifications.

"The fact that there are no doctors does not mean there are no health services," says Tama. A supervising nurse is employed on each northern island.

Tama believes the existing referral system -- using the advice of supervising nurses and the medical judgment of doctors’ in Rarotonga -- ensures that seriously ill people are taken to Rarotonga Hospital for further treatment.

Because of its isolation, Pukapuka will be the first northern island to get a doctor, confirmed Tama.

Manihiki

Over a year after the northern atoll of Manihiki was devastated by Cyclone Martin, Manihiki MP Dr. Robert Woonton says he is concerned that there are still serious deficiencies in the provision of health and education services.

Dr. Woonton told Parliament last month that Manihiki has been neglected and there is little evidence of improvement to social services. A make-shift hospital in Tukao village is "appalling and not fit for human habitation," he said.

Dr. Woonton acknowledged that a lot of money had been poured into rebuilding Manihiki after it was flattened by Cyclone Martin, but alleges the reconstruction programs are not working and people there are still struggling.

Latest health statistics show the number of people hospitalized in the northern group increased considerably over the last three years; so did the average length of stay in the hospital. The statistics excluded the 1997 increase in hospitalized Manihiki patients injured during Cyclone Martin.

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