29 Jul 2008

Concern over French Polynesia's medivac as military draw-down looms

3:32 pm on 29 July 2008

There is concern in French Polynesia that the withdrawal of some of the French military personnel will make medical evacuation across its vast territory more difficult.

Paris has announced the gradual closure of its airbase in Tahiti and a reduction in the number of troops as part of a defence restructuring but the French high commissioner in Papeete says evacuations will be assured by civilian means.

The territory's president, Gaston Tong Sang, says while the Guardian helicopters and the Casa transport plane stay, he hopes pilots will continue to be available.

However, 58 organisations territory-wide involved in medical care say they are worried as rescue services in some archipelagos are already in a deplorable state.

William Tevaria, who represents caregivers in the Marquesas, says pregnant women need to be taken to hospital by boat even in rough seas.

More than 20,000 patients are reported to have been transported to Papeete last year, with a further 6,500 being flown to hospitals across the outer islands.