UPDATE: COOK ISLANDS DOWNPLAYS DOCTOR SHORTAGE IN PENRHYN AND

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MANIHIKI

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (April 28, 1999 - PACNEWS/Radio Australia)---The Cook Islands Government has downplayed the lack of doctors in the northern islands of Penrhyn and Manihiki, saying well-trained nurses have taken care of most emergency cases.

Concerns have been expressed in the Cooks that there has been no doctor in the northern islands group for more than two years.

The head of the Ministry for Outer Island Development, Kato Tama, said it has been difficult to find a suitable doctor to work in the northern group because of poor working condition and accommodations.

Tama said emergency situations are handled by nurses working closely with doctors in Rarotonga.

"When the are cases they are unable to handle, then -- with consultations, with the doctors here in Rarotonga -- then they decide to evacuate patients or a doctor from here flies over to the islands.

"On average, we would probably evacuate five patients a year," the Cook Island Government official said.

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