Press release:

Australian Rural Doctors are working to improve the health of many throughout Pacific Island Communities despite the Covid-19 pandemic making travel almost impossible.

Working through Rocketship, an international not-for-profit organisation based in Australia, doctors who typically work in Rural and Remote locations across the Australian bush and Outback are providing their expertise to build better and more resilient healthcare in Pacific Island Communities.

Rocketship stands for Remote Opportunities for Clinical Knowledge, Education, Training and Support for Health in the Pacific. The organisation was co-founded in 2015 by Dr Lachlan McIver a rural generalist currently working for World Health Organisation. Leading Rocketship is Queensland Rural GP, Dr Dan Manahan.

The current training, in partnership with the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine, James Cook University, Tonga Ministry of Health and Fiji National University is designed to boost post-graduate medical training in Pacific Countries.

Current Rocketship board chair Dr Dan Manahan said, ‘thanks to a new program at FNU, the post-graduate training programme that Australian rural specialists are currently supporting in Family Medicine is helping establish a higher quality of care within the Pacific. Eventually, it is Rocketship’s hope that Pacific Islander graduates will in turn become future trainers.’

Dr Manahan said that Australian rural and regional Doctors are now not only helping keep their own communities safe and well during the Pandemic, but are helping build resilient medical care in Pacific Island Countries also.

Like many of the Rocketship’s educators, Dan Manahan is a rural doctor based in Queensland’s granite belt in the Southern Downs town of Stanthorpe.

He said, ‘Improving post-graduate training will also eventually mean sustainable improvements in primary health care, reductions in morbidity and mortality from non-communicable and other diseases. And that’s a significant boost for some of the poorest and most remote countries in the world.’

With a training course now established in Tonga, even as the Pandemic prevented doctors from travelling to provide post-graduate Family Medicine training, the expertise, skills and knowledge of Australian bush doctors shone as they modified their training to provide support on-line.

The FNU Family Medicine Program supported by Rocketship is the only post-graduate health education that has continued to provide training through FNU despite Covid obstacles to face to face training. This was achieved by pivoting to online distance education modelled on the Australian rural experience.

‘This is some of the best of the Australian bush doctors reaching out to and supporting our Pacific neighbours. Their efforts will eventually mean that ultimately many deaths from diseases like diabetes and malnutrition will be prevented and the health and wellbeing of remote communities will improve,’ Dr Manahan said.

Until now Fijian and Tongan doctors wanting to specialise in General Practice have had to undertake training in either Australia or New Zealand. The Postgraduate Diploma in Family Medicine and Master of Family Medicine provides a country-specific course that allows doctors to train locally while still living and working in their own communities.

‘The distance education model Rocketship provide means doctors from Tonga and other communities are able to stay in their communities while they study. It’s particularly important in the more remote areas where their departure would have a big impact on families and communities,’ he said.

Dr Manahan added that the distance education during the Pandemic and hands on training when able, means the collaborative Rocketship training ‘is a game changer for under-resourced and remote communities when you have doctors who can provide primary health care, which is a corner stone of universal health care across Pacific Countries’.