New Zealand infectious disease specialist and microbiologist Dr Richard Everts (left) with Rarotonga hospital chief microbiologist Geoffrey Wuatai working on a sample for antibiotic resistance. 18022710
For 10 years Dr Richard Everts has been visiting the Cook Islands with one main aim – to keep antibiotics working!
As an infection
specialist, he has dealt with antibiotics in New Zealand, Australia and the
Pacific Islands for over 20 years. Antibiotics are medicines that kill
bacteria, and every day they save lives across the Pacific.
Each time he
visits the Cook Islands, Dr Everts finds out exactly what bacteria are causing
infections here. This information is provided by Geoff Wuatai and Peia Ben who
are scientists in the microbiology laboratory at Rarotonga Hospital.
Each year Wuatai
and Ben grow thousands of bacteria in the laboratory from samples taken from people
all around the Cook Islands, and they measure which antibiotics will work
against these bacteria.
They keep all the
detailed results of their work on a computer database at Rarotonga Hospital. Dr
Everts analyses these results and figures out which antibiotics are best to
treat different infections in the Cook Islands.
“You can’t just
take antibiotic guidelines from New Zealand or Australia and use them in the
Cook Islands,” Dr Everts said. “The antibiotics that are best for a skin
infection in the Cook Islands are somewhat different from those in other
which antibiotic to use for each infection, what dose, and for how many days, is
then written into a handbook of recommendations for Cook Island doctors, nurses
and pharmacists. This handbook was first
written by Dr Everts in 2015, was updated in 2018, and is being updated again
While here, Dr
Everts uses the Cook Islands antibiotic handbook to teach Te Marae Ora staff
how to use antibiotics correctly. “Antibiotics are a precious resource, and we
must all use them wisely,” he says.
Dr Everts and
Geoff Wuatai have also researched some local Cook Islands plants and have discovered
that several leaves, nuts, and flowers have antibiotics in them. Piripiri
kerekere is the strongest of them all. The leaves and flowers kill Staphylococcus
aureus – bacteria that are
responsible for most skin infections.
Dr Everts noted: “It’s
fascinating that for hundreds of years Cook Islanders have used natural
products on skin sores and only now we’re discovering how some of these might
“I really enjoy visiting the Cook Islands and
doing this work. It’s very rewarding and I enjoy working with TMO staff.”
Dr Everts’ visited
Rarotonga in the first week of November. His work in the Cook Islands is
supported by the World Health Organization.