PIMA launches telemedicine program to help with care

With approval from the Kiribati Ministry of Health, we at Pacific Islands Medical Aid have launched a program to establish a telemedicine program for Christmas Island in the Central Pacific.

The program, under direction of our co-medical director, Dr. Lydia Lam, MD, FACS, will link medical personnel on the small Christmas Island hospital with specialist physicians in the U.S., who will serve as consultants free of charge whenever needed.

“With expanded and more reliable internet service on the island, we can now use Skype for audio and video connections,” Dr. Lam said. As initially envisioned, medical personnel on the isolated island in Kiribati will contact her when needed and she will then put them in touch immediately with the appropriate specialist, drawn from a list of willing volunteer doctors here in the U.S.

“Good web cameras will enable the doctor on Christmas Island to show patients and their conditions more clearly, and can even be used in the pre-op area or operating room during surgery,” Dr. Lam said.

“This is a great initiative. We really need that service,” says Dr. Teraira Bangao, Kiribati Ministry of Health medical officer in charge on Christmas Island.

“On the U.S. side, Dr. Lam and her PIMA co-medical director, Dr. Shalini Sharma, are putting together a comprehensive list of available medical specialists to help with any emergency situation that might arise on Christmas Island,” says PIMA president, Carlton Smith.

“Right now, this is one of the most important immediate health initiatives we can undertake for the good people of Kiribati, given their critical shortage of doctors and extremely limited resources,” Carlton said.

Dr. Lam, who will serve as the program’s ‘gatekeeper,’ is assistant professor of clinical surgery and emergency medicine and associate program director for trauma and critical care at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine at the Los Angeles County, University of Southern California Medical Center.

Friends work to restore vital communications

Vital radio communications between the nurse on the small, isolated island of Teraina in the Central Pacific and the nearest doctor 200 miles away on Christmas Island, have been lost.

Friends of Pacific Islands Medical Aid are now coming to the rescue to restore this life-saving link. There is no doctor on Teraina.

The transceiver that PIMA installed several years ago connecting the nurse’s clinic on Teraina with the hospital on Christmas Island stopped working after humidity and the elements corroded the radio, according to Gordon West, owner of the well-known Gordon West Radio School in Costa Mesa, California.

“Gordon, a great friend who helped us set up the original communications link, has acquired a new radio, added a better antenna and has sent it along to the sailing vessel Kwai in Honolulu where it will be shipped to Teraina,” said PIMA president Carlton Smith.

Crewmembers aboard the Kwai have volunteered to install the radio and antenna when the ship arrives at Teraina in March, according to the Kwai’s owner Brad Ives. “We are forever grateful to Brad and his wife, April, who have helped us in so many ways with challenging transportation issues in the Pacific,” Carlton said.

We will update everyone when the radio is up and running again.

Team praises island doctors, calls for greater support

Surgery on Isolated Island - Dr. Eugenia Lee (at left) and our Pacific Islands Medical Aid co-medical director, Dr. Lydia Lam, join to perform appendicitis surgery on island patient during their week-long medical aid visit in January.

Surgery on Isolated Island – Dr. Eugenia Lee (at left) and our Pacific Islands Medical Aid co-medical director, Dr. Lydia Lam, join to perform appendicitis surgery on island patient during their week-long medical aid visit in January.

Our most recent volunteer medical team to visit Christmas Island, in January, consisted of Dr. Lydia Lam, MD, FACS, professor of clinical surgery and emergency medicine at the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, who is also co-medical director of Pacific Islands Medical Aid; Dr. Audwin Garcia, MD, from MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital, emergency and critical care physician; and Dr. Eugenia Lee, MD, surgery resident and Masters of Public Health candidate. Here are Dr. Lee’s comments.

By Dr. Eugenia Lee, MD

During my week on Christmas Island, I was able to gain first-hand experience with the challenges of providing surgical care to Pacific Island populations. Without a full staff of physicians, Ronton Hospital depends a lot on rotating volunteers from Pacific Islands Medical Aid.

The full time hospital staff, including an anesthesiologist, nurse anesthetist, obstetrician/gynecologist, ultrasound technician and nurses, demonstrates an exceptional ability to work as a team… clearly rooted in their dedication to provide the highest possible quality of healthcare, as well as an intimate, family-like culture.

We were able to witness this dynamic as the staff welcomed us into their homes for celebrations… nurses taking turns caring for their children, dancing and singing in perfect harmony. At work, they worked in unison like parts of a single body, with well-defined roles and continuous communication.

Throughout the week we also experienced several storms that flooded the roads, making transportation in general very difficult. This shed light on significant obstacles to providing medical care, including safe roads and travel between the hospital and outer islands, where regular boat transportation is not available, and where a boat is desperately needed.

Other challenges include maintenance of surgical and diagnostic equipment… with lots of broken machines waiting to be repaired, or replaced. Currently, Ronton Hospital needs an updated ultrasound machine, functioning back-up electrical generator, operating theater lights, among other large pieces of medical equipment.

Nonetheless, Ronton Hospital is a testament to resilience in the midst of geographical, climatic and financial challenges. With the help of Pacific Islands Medical Aid, this facility provides complex surgical care to a population who would have to fly more than 3,000 kilometers to the capital of Tarawa, or beyond, for basic procedures. I look forward to the continued growth of this facility.

Please join in the effort to improve conditions at this small hospital by making your donation to provide some of the urgent needs Dr. Lee has described.