Kiribati teams up with NZ university to tackle mortality rates

Kiribati health minister Tinte Itinteang, left, on signing the deal with Professor Neil Dodgson, with Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Pasifika) Luamanuvao Dame Winnie Laban Photo: RNZ Pacific/Kelvin Anthony

The government of Kiribati has partnered with Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand in its efforts to reduce high maternal and child mortality rates in the country.

The move will focus on finding ways to improve midwifery and nursing practises in Kiribati, and also develop teaching of Kiribati students and existing health professionals.

While signing the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in Wellington last week, health minister Tinte Itinteang said the Micronesian nation cannot address its health issues on its own.

He said the agreement will lead to “wonderful and amazing opportunities” for the Kiribati people.

With a chain of islands dispersed across a vast area of the Pacific ocean and limited resources, Kiribati has some of the poorest health indicators in the Pacific.

“The signing of this MoU between our two institutions today symbolises the partnership which we believe will lead to wonderful and amazing possibilities,” said Itinteang.

“Though we don’t have much to offer apart from the research opportunities. I am sure that Victoria University of Wellington will be a proud partner in the quest to improve the health of the people in the Pacific region, in particular, reducing maternal and child mortality rates in Kiribati.”

And its child mortality rates are almost 10 times higher than New Zealand’s.

The nation also has the highest under five or infant mortality rate in the Pacific with around 50 deaths per 1000 live births – which again is also almost ten times Aotearoa’s rate.

“These large differences in statistics clearly shows that there is a lot to offer between our two organisations and the opportunities exist to learn from each other research through training and sharing of good practices. The ultimate outcome of this partnership is to improve the health and livelihood of the people of Kiribati,” said Itinteang.

The Dean of Victoria University of Wellington’s faculty of graduate research, Neil Dodgson, said the partnership is initially for five years with the option to extend.

“We’re expecting that our collaboration with Kiribati will lead to tangible benefits for the university.

“There are research problems that we can address and that will allow us to work together and there are the possibility that we will be able to teach and train Kiribati students which benefits both the University and the Republic.”

Routes to improving outcomes

There are two main parts to the project: teaching and research.

Professor Dodgson said they want the partnership to lead to practical outcomes for both parties involved.

He said Minister Itinteang has identified a source of funding to allow them to do a collaborative education project which will be in midwifery and nursing practice.

“The issue for caregivers is they will have quite high maternal mortality and infant mortality. And it’s very tricky to get training sorted out when you’re a nation of 32 atolls scattered across three million kilometres of ocean.

“So there’s questions of how can we help leverage what they’ve already got? How can we use our existing expertise to help them to train midwives and people who can accompany and help midwives?”

The research component of the collaboration is expected to allow Kiribati students opportunities to apply for Victoria University’s Pasifika scholarships to carry out higher studies before returning to their country and contributing to their community.

“We’ve come together as representatives of two Pacific nations, Aotearoa and Kiribati, to celebrate our intention to continue to work in collaboration, to have tangible practical outcomes, and with the plans that will provide a better future for both our peoples,” said Professor Dodgson

Whitireia Community Polytechnic’s educator and Kiribati-born Teramira Schutz has welcomed the partnership.

Dr Schutz, who has spent the past three decades in the health sector in Kiribati and New Zealand, said it was a great opportunity for her people.

She said the statistic highlights the scale of the health problem and such a collaboration is absolutley necessary.

But she also said it is important to train local nurses on the islands so that they do not lose them through labour schemes overseas.

“So in country training will be to me will be the best option for our nurses because that’s where they’re gonna practice that’s where they’re gonna look after the the actual service they’re going to provide to our actual people.

“It’s really good to have the this collaboration because we we want our nurses to be upgraded. We want our nurses to know how to use you know, the new technology and and to practice best practices that are evidence based.”

Photo: RNZ Pacific/Kelvin Anthony