31 Mar 2004

Scholarships to attract Cooks Islands doctors

3:36 pm on 31 March 2004

The Cook Islands' top health official says the shortage of doctors is dire and one solution may be to entice young Cook Islanders home with offers of medical scholarships.

The Secretary for Health, Vaine Teokotai, says seven of the country's 18 general practitioners come from countries such as Myanmar, the Philippines and Nepal, and five have come out of retirement.

But Mr Teokotai says that even with these stop-gap measures, the Cooks lacks doctors and worries about a lack of students leaving school with science subjects.

Pleas to Cook Islanders living abroad to return have failed, and Mr Teokotai says he will now propose that the Government offer two medical scholarships a year to young Cook Islanders who agree to return.

Mr Teokotai says the situation is a crisis and something must be done.

"We have a crisis in the sense that we have doctors who are in their mid 60s and still working, who should most likely be enjoying their retirement. But they're working because we feel that we don't have younger doctors here and in terms of succession, we don't have enough doctors to succeed them."

Mr Teokotai says there could be a decision on his proposal within three to six months.