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NZMTS: Solomon Islands paediatric cardiologist deployed to help strengthen services in Kiribati
Updates , 7 Jul 24
The World Health Organization reports more than 288,000 lives are claimed every year from Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD), with a high concentration of these cases being located in the Pacific. It's prevalence highlights the significant inequality and inequity faced in the region, with limited resources available for people who suffer from this preventable disease. Amidst these dire statistics, we are introduced to Dr. Maryanne Kora’ai, a paediatric cardiologist, who has dedicated the past two decades of her career to addressing RHD.

Originally from the Solomon Islands, Dr. Kora’ai’s pursuit of education and a pathway to medicine saw her migration to Fiji, and produced a career that has seen her occupy key posts in paediatrics and cardiology in Fiji’s public health sector, non-governmental agencies, and international institutions. 

“I’ve seen the worst – children dying from heart disease. These are young children, whose lives have been cut short because of something that is preventable. So this is why I am passionate, and this is the area that I want to work in.”  

Through the Maasina Heart Pasifika,  Dr. Kora’ai is on a mission to create a positive impact in the Pacific through training initiatives, such as her recent visit to Kiribati, where she was deployed under the New Zealand Medical Treatment Scheme's (NZMTS) ‘strengthening country capacity’ component.  

For seven days, she was based at Tungaru Central Hospital in Kiribati to carry out paediatric services, echo training, rheumatic heart disease screening, and congenital heart disease screening.  

“The Kiribati team had an RHD program a few years ago, and because of a shifting of staff, it collapsed. So they realized that the main areas of referrals for RHD were for surgeries, so PMA had funds for that. They already identified previously that this is an area they need to work together to revive. 

“So I’m working with them in reviving this program, and also teaching up the general knowledge for the nurses and the local staff because screening is only a part of the story. The model is to empower them and build their capacity so that in the next two to three years they’ll be able to screen independently.”  

Dr. Kora’ai’s deployment to Kiribati was facilitated by the Pasifika Medical Association (PMA) Group through the New Zealand Medical Treatment Scheme (NZMTS) and funded by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT). 

Her tireless and dedicated efforts in Kiribati are the latest initiative to take place under the collective objective of supporting and strengthening health workforce capacity in Pacific countries.