Doctors a sight for sore eyes

Saturday November 16, 2019 Written by Published in Health

After mounting concern about the standard of medical care on the outer islands, Cook Islands’ flying doctors held their first Kaveinga Ora clinics this week on Manihiki and Pukapuka. 


Brian McKenzie lives on Manihiki island, 1200km of dangerous ocean from the nearest hospital – and made ever more dangerous for someone who is getting older and whose sight is beginning to fail.

This week, Manihiki welcomed its first flying doctors visit under the Kaveinga Ora scheme – and many of the island’s 200 people were able to get medical check-ups. Then yesterday, the doctors were on Pukapuka attending to its population of 400.

McKenzie acknowledged the doctors’ effort in making the long trip – in just a couple of days, the doctors managed to see most residents, he reckons.

Dr Yin Yin May, the Director of Hospital Health Services in Rarotonga, checked McKenzie’s blood pressure and noted his increasingly blurry eyesight.

She advised him he needed eye surgery – and now he is planning to schedule the long trip to Rarotonga to have his eyes operated on.

McKenzie said it was critical doctors attended to the medical needs of those in the outer islands – an increasingly lour refrain from those on the other islands.

There are now no doctors based on any islands other than Rarotonga and Aitutaki, though most have expert nurse practitioners who use the internet to call on further advice and assistance from specialists.

But this week, Dr May led a Ministry of Health team to the two Northern Group islands – the first visit under the new programme.

Dr May and Dr Norman Tangi have been conducting primary care clinics, accompanied by Dr Zaw Aung doing echocardiograms to check the heart. Dr Aroiva Akama has been providing dental services and registered nurse Apii Mateariki is running women’s health clinics.

Three months ago, concerns about the lack of doctors in the outer islands was raised in Mangaia, in the Southern Group, after one woman had to be evacuated in a coma, and a man paid his own way to Rarotonga for a hospital check-up after a coconut fell on his head.

Secretary for Health Dr Josephine Aumea Herman visited Mangaia, and has been driving the  Kaveinga Ora flying doctors project.

She said the next charter flight to the Northern group would go to Pukapuka, Penrhyn, Manihiki and Rakahanga, and would carry mental health, public health and IT/finance personnel. Some Te Marae Ora staff would also join other government agencies on a December charter flight to Penrhyn.

“We are completing our Kaveinga Ora health services to the Northern Pa Enua before 2020 when it is anticipated that a few cyclones might travel through the Cook Islands,” Dr Herman said. “It demonstrates our commitment to ensure no one gets left behind”.

Public Health Director Dr Tereapii Uka has provided General Practitioner services in Atiu, Mangaia and Aitutaki over recent months, as have Dr Ni Ni Wynn and Dr Teariki Faireka in Aitutaki.

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