By Dr. Lydia Lam, MD FACS,
Dr. Shalini Sharma, MD MPH
Medical care in Kiribati is limited due to the lack of physicians available in the country. And, unfortunately, primary care and surgical specialties are unavailable despite a baseline necessity.
We at Pacific Islands Medical Aid, Inc. (PIMA) have been fortunate to have developed a good relationship with the Kiribati Ministry of Health and the Kiribati people and have been providing specialty care for several years now.
We were personally fortunate to have been on a PIMA surgical team in 2011, and have been continuing our efforts with various specialists since that time.
Our first trip to Christmas Island (Kiritimati) proved fruitful since there were many patients requiring surgical intervention. Our subsequent trips helped us realize that specialty care, while critically important, was overshadowed by the need for consistent primary care.
This became more evident when the PIMA-sponsored pediatrician, Dr. Kathleen Smith, saw more than 600 patients in basic well child care during her visit to the island.
On this trip, we focused on overall wellbeing and specialty care. Our team consisted of a general surgeon, anesthesiologist, a cardiologist and plastic/hand surgeon.
Dr. Vivian Mo is a cardiologist knowledgeable in heart failure and echocardiography. In addition, her internal medicine skills were essential during the trip. During our week on the island, she saw more than 70 patients, some with critical cardiac pathology and others with benign medical issues.
Critical patients identified on previous trips also received the follow-up they needed. Just an important, Dr. Mo was able to allay the fears of many with benign conditions. Dr. Joseph Carey is a multi-talented surgeon trained in plastic, reconstructive, burn and hand surgery. Many patients presented during the week with various conditions, including suspicious skin lesions that were removed. Dr. Carey was also able to save the damaged hand of one young man, a policeman on the island, who will now be able to keep his job and have optimal function of his hand.
All in all, the team saw more than 100 clinic patients and performed eleven surgeries, while identifying those who will need follow-up in subsequent visits.
We were proud and honored to put together this group of physicians to provide these basic needs to the people. Our goal has been, and continues to be, the support of logistics and medical care to further the resources available to the islanders and to share knowledge with the local medical staff.