New Zealand Medical Team Provides Treatment In Northern Cooks

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Local doctors guide physicians on service tour of isolated atolls

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, May 1, 2012) – For the first time in four years, a group of highly qualified doctors are sailing the isolated northern atolls to bring their medical skills to people who live there.

The medical team left from Avatiu harbor yesterday morning on the police maritime surveillance vessel Te Kukupa after farewells from onlookers and dignitaries, including Prime Minister Henry Puna who shook hands and spoke a few words with each team member.

The team’s first island of call is Palmerston (population 65) which they will reach today and may stay for two or three days depending on the needs of the patients they see and the weather conditions.

After Palmerston, they will make stops in Nassau, Pukapuka, Manihiki, Rakahanga, and Penrhyn – islands that often have nurse practitioners or enrolled nurses in charge of local health services. Pukapuka and Manihiki currently have a resident doctor.

Director of Outer Islands Health Services Helen Sinclair said months of planning had gone into this outreach program for the northern group, including tracking the status of the island resident populations, the disease patterns, and the need for services.

"We saw that we needed to include services in women’s health, ophthalmology, cardiology, pediatrics and mental health to name a few," she said. "Then we put a team together and organized outreach activities."

Ideally, the Ministry of Health would like to send specialist doctors to the northern islands every two years but this always depends on the available budget.

"We didn’t have enough funds in recent years. The last time we were able to do this was four years ago 2008."

The team that sailed from Avatiu yesterday included seven New Zealand specialists: gynaecologist (female reproductive specialist) Dr. Martin Sowter, internal medicine specialist Dr. Robert Eason, optometrist (eye specialist) Dr. John Veale, mental health specialist Dr. Francis Agnew, adult cardiologist (heart disorder specialist), Dr. Garry Baron, general pediatric specialist (infant, child and adolescent specialist), Dr. Danny Stewart, and echo technician (performs ultrasounds on the heart and assists the cardiologist) Stuart Cox.

Accompanying the team is Dr. Teariki Faireka, local medical officer in ophthalmology, and Sinclair.

The medical doctors are funded under the health specialist visits program – a tripartite agreement to address health needs of the Cook Islands between New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ministry of Finance and Economic Management, and the Ministry of Health.

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