Thu, Dec 02, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Allies discuss health issues

COOPERATION Health ministers from the nation's Pacific island allies outlined the problems they face, while health officials here committed to providing aid

By Melody Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Republic of the Marshall Islands' Minister of Health Alvin Jacklick, left, Director of the Department of Health Chen Chien-jen, second left, the Republic of Palau's Vice President and Minister of Health Sandra Pierantozzi, center, the Solomon Islands' Undersecretary of Health Care Judson Leafasia, second right, and Tuvalu's Minister of Health Alesana Seluka, right, join hands at a meeting of Austronesian health ministers held at the Grand Hotel in Taipei yesterday.


Health ministers from Taiwan's diplomatic allies Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Palau, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu inked the Taipei Health Communique and Agreement on Cooperation at the International Conference for Austronesian Health yesterday.

Chaired by Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁), director general of the Department of Health (DOH), the Pacific island countries' health ministers briefed the conference on the health challenges their nations face, while government officials here presented projects to help improve health services in the allies.

Sandra Sumang Pierantozzi, vice president and minister of health for Palau, said the country's medial staff treat the majority of illness and diseases. The more acute illnesses which require more than tertiary care are referred off-island to the Philippines or Hawaii for treatment, she said.

"This practice is fine as Palau is not able to afford, nor is it practical, to establish such medical facilities in Palau. However, the cost of medical referral is increasing every year, and we are struggling with spiraling costs within a limited economy," Pierantozzi said.

Noting Palau has a rather high rate of schizophrenia, she said that since the early 1950s, some research has been conducted into the health of Palauans with the mental disorder, and some families have been identified as carrying a gene that perpetuates the illness.

"More genetic research is required to shed light on all this," she said.

Another major challenge for Palau, she said, is the development of adequate human resources in medicine, nursing and allied health.

"At present, there appears to be a sufficient number of physicians working within our health community; however, a good number of them are expatriates who will one day have to return to their respective countries," Pierantozzi said.

Judson Leafasia, permanent secretary of the Solomon Islands' Ministry of Health and Medical Services, reported that several provincial hospitals had not been fully operational during the years of ethnic conflict in the country.

"However, by the end of 2003, all hospitals became fully operational, but most are still in dire need of repairs, refurbishing as well as supplies of certain equipment and drugs," a paper provided by Solomon Islands' Ministry of Health said.

Citing staff shortages as a major problem, the paper said human resource development in health is one of the country's priorities.

"To this end, a number of doctors are currently undertaking postgraduate training in pathology, psychiatry and internal medicine and obstetrics/gynecology," the paper said.

Alesana Kleis Seluka, Tuvalu's minister of health, said a lack of technical staff and laboratory equipment are the main obstacles to the delivery of health care to HIV patients in the country.

"We cannot offer effective and efficient treatment and care to HIV/AIDS sufferers as we do not have the capacity to provide the necessary blood tests to monitor the effectiveness of anti-retroviral drugs. Meanwhile, no health staff have been trained to provide appropriate care for HIV/AIDS clients," Seluka said.

"We need assistance from developed countries to fill the gaps in the process of preventing HIV/AIDS and also the care of HIV/AIDS sufferers," Seluka said.

In introducing programs for Austronesian health cooperation, Lin Ching-fong (林慶豐), chief secretary of the DOH's Bureau of Health Promotion, suggested Taiwan and its Pacific allies hold regular forums on health and medical care, and set up a technical advisory group on medical care technology in the Austronesian region.

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