Chief medical and clinical officer Dr Yin May says the ongoing programme aims to improve the health of the people of the Cook Islands and includes visits from specialists in urology, adult cardiology, mammography, orthopaedics, mental health, orthodontics, intensive care and general medicine.
Dr May said which specialists visit depends on the services that need to be provided and the most highly prioritised services are included in each year’s programme. “The reason for these visits is because we do not have enough resources to provide these services ourselves. The Cook Islands is a small country and we don’t have medical specialists.” She said the visits were not only about seeing patients but also about improving the capacity of the local health workforce. Visiting doctors also advised the ministry’s staff on health systems and protocols.
“We have a link with these medical professionals and it is important because if we want to refer patients to Auckland, we can refer to them. If we did not have these counterparts it would not be easy.”
Dr May said all health problems evident on Rarotonga were given priority in deciding which specialists would visit first. Health staff on Rarotonga were divided into four groups and were responsible for deciding which medical problems needs the most urgent attention.
“We wish we could have as many as 32 specialists but they are not always available all the time. They don’t have a special leave system for coming here and most of them need to take annual leave.” Dr May said a major health problem that was being monitored every year were general eye checkups, with eyesight problems resulting from the high number of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the Cook Islands such as diabetes.
She said around 150 eye cataracts were treated each year and the specialist programme not only made treatment more cost effective but could also save lives.
The outer islands were not left out of the programme and most patients in need of urgent treatment were brought to Rarotonga. Some specialists also managed to include the outer islands into their schedules. Earlier this year, a general paediatric doctor visited Rarotonga and health care waste management training was conducted for ministry staff on Rarotonga and Aitutaki. A paediatric life support (PLS) emergency team from Starship Hospital visiting Rarotonga at present and two periodontologists (dentistry specialists) will be here from February 13-17.