Dr Stevenson Kuartei
Palau’s Dr Stevenson Kuartei is working with Rocketship to help guide the development of post-graduate medical training in the Solomon Islands. He says Rocketship training represents an important step towards universal health care, but across the Pacific, more change is needed.
Palau Senator and Chair of the Committee on Health and Social Welfare, Dr Kuartei argues that primary health care is the cornerstone of universal health coverage. He says that medical and healthcare education needs to reflect the need for development of an integrated health care system that incorporates disease prevention as well as disease management principles.
Nonetheless, while he applauds the work of Rocketship in post-graduate medical training as a key step towards improving universal health across the Pacific, he says the problems around health are complex.
Dr Kuartei’s perspective comes from his significant background in healthcare and health policy development. His background includes his work with Pacific Family Medical Supply, Eye and Medical Clinics in Koror, in the Republic of Palau, working as Minister for Health for Palau from 2008 to 2012 and prior to that as Director of its Bureau of Public Health of Palau.
He has also served as Chairman of the Palau Health Professional Licensure Board; Chairman of the Palau Off-Island Medical Referral Committee; been a Member of the Palau Institutional Board; President of the Palau Medical Society; a Member of the Pacific Basin Medical Association; and Chief of Medical Staff for the Belau National Hospital.
In 2004 he served as Chairman of the Committee on Traditional Healing for the 9th Festival of Pacific Arts. That same year he served as Vice President of the Second Palau Constitutional Convention; as Chairman, Committee on Fundamental Rights, where preventive health was made a fundamental right for Palauan citizens.
He says that typically Pacific Island Countries have focused healthcare provision on caring for disease in hospitals and clinics and Palau and others have provided insufficient attention to disease prevention.
He says primary health education in the Pacific needs to blend disease management with the understanding of the importance of preventative medicine. He says, that combination properly establishes primary care as the health safety net in Pacific communities.
The Palau experience, he says, is typical of the approach to health across the Pacific. He says that in Palau, ‘we have a hard time deciding that being disease free doesn’t mean you have health.’
Dr Kuartei says primary health care physicians need medical education that provides a wholistic approach to medicine and that approach will help develop ‘robust primary healthcare that will bridge community health and the clinical side.’
TRADE, COMMERCE AND COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT ESSENTIAL
Speaking with Rocketship’s Medical Care Matters, he insisted that the solution to Pacific Island healthcare is about more than medical education and training. He says to improve health care in the Pacific, policy makers need to consider issues around trade, commerce and community development. He says those considerations should involve PIC communities, governments as well as international organisations and PIC neighbours and trade partners like Australia.
Dr Kuartei says international organisations like World Trade Organisation need to not promote the export of unhealthy food choices into Pacific Communities. He says that economic decisions around food commerce are ‘creating an environment by which an individual has to struggle to make those healthy decisions every day.’
Using Palau as an example, he says improving health ‘is not just about the choices that Palauns make. It’s about the choices that are in the environment. If I don’t have poor health choices available, I will never make that choice.’
He says that the argument that providing Pacific Islander consumers with unhealthy food is not justified as an exercise in providing freedom of choice because those choices are harmful to the health of PIC communities.
‘somewhere in our community at large there has to be an ownership of the problem…
He says that means trade and commerce policymakers must shoulder their share of responsibility for the health of Pacific Island communities as the responsibility for healthcare and disease prevention is not just the domain of healthcare providers or health educators.
He says that ‘If it were only clinicians that have the answers, we haven’t done a very good job in the last 50 years.’ Instead, he argues that ‘somewhere in our community at large there has to be an ownership of the problem by the faith organisations, by the women’s groups, by the men’s group, and by the whole of society.’
Island of Palau – courtesy of Palau Tourism