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Covid-19 reveals gaps in Kiribati’s health care system

Tuesday 3 May 2022 | Written by RNZ | Published in Kiribati, Regional

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Covid-19 reveals gaps in Kiribati’s health care system
Photo: RNZ

A nationwide project is underway in Kiribati to address gaps in the country's health care system.

Doctors without Borders, an international humanitarian medical non-governmental organisation, is leading the initiative which is responding to the Omicron outbreak that started in February.

Kiribati has recorded more than 3000 cases and 13 Covid-related deaths.

Medical coordinator Alison Jones said they're identifying gaps in the health care system.

"What's clear is that if the primary health care system is not strong you do end up with many that perhaps could have been managed in the community if certain systems were in place or were a little bit stronger, and the hospital is quite burdened actually so it's important for us to understand how it works."

She was in Kiribati during the outbreak.

"The first wave went surprisingly well you could say, I mean there were a lot of people affected. I think over 70% of the main island were affected, but there weren't the numbers of critically affected patients as expected, lucky it was omicron, you know, less severe Covid disease," she said.

MSF's Doctor Darren Pezzack, an emergency doctor working in Kiribati – setting up some equipment in the COVID-19 high dependency space near the Central hospital on south Tarrawa. 2022
MSF's Doctor Darren Pezzack, an emergency doctor working in Kiribati – setting up some equipment in the COVID-19 high dependency space near the Central hospital on south Tarrawa. 2022 Photo: Médecins Sans Frontières Australia

In 2016, the then Health Minister said non-communicable diseases (NCDs) were the most serious health issues facing Kiribati.

The NCD crisis has been a huge strain on medical services, and this has been further exacerbated by the Covid outbreak.

Jones said nurses and doctors need upskilling.

"It's very difficult for nurses to access post-graduate care and this really will influence as it does everywhere in the world, the quality of care that can be given to patients.

Betio Hospital
Betio Hospital Photo: RNZ Pacific / Koro Vaka'uta

This is the issue that is always raised to us, the lack of opportunities to post-graduate experience and capacity to have the technical expertise to look after patients," she said.

Alison Jones said that the average number of new cases has now plateaued to one a day.