The Republic of Kiribati, better known as just Kiribati, is an Oceanic country formed by 33 unique islands, of which 20 are inhabited. The majority of Kiribati’s population is located on the Eastern Gilbert islands, while many islands located in the center function without a permanent population. Healthcare in Kiribati has been a committed work-in-progress, especially after the notification in the late 20th century that its population was at one of the lowest standards of living in Oceania. The disjointedness of the islands and a lack of cohesive national health policy has significantly impacted Kiribati’s ability to effectively provide national healthcare services to all that need it.
In fact, as recently as 2012, there was not an official agency for national health policy, regulation of health standards, assessment of health technology, or management of health technology. However, despite this glaring lack of infrastructure, Kiribati has instituted projects at the national level to improve its primary level of healthcare. The government, along with partnerships from international health organizations, is working to invest in Kiribati’s health infrastructure.
The following five facts about healthcare in Kiribati are integral to understanding the country’s changing health structures and transition out of poverty.
5 Facts About Healthcare in Kiribati
- Around 22% of the Kiribati population is living under the “basic needs” threshold, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. However, the traditional definition of poverty is not used in Kiribati, as much of the population believes that as long as one can maintain subsistence living, they are not poor. Instead, poverty is related to meet their basic expenses on a daily or weekly basis. This culture has made it so that many residents in Kiribati live in housing without access to clean water, sanitation or other basic hygiene utilities.
- Kiribati is at an elevated risk for infant mortality, consistently ranking as the highest country in Oceania by the estimated absolute number of incident cases, with approximately five times the number of cases as Australia. In 2012, the rate of infant mortality stood at 60 deaths per 1,000 individuals. While this statistic was significantly reduced from years past, there is no reason for such a high percentage of the population to suffer from infant mortality. The most common causes of infant mortality in Kiribati are perinatal diseases, diarrhoeal diseases and pneumonia. As a result of inadequate water supply and poor sanitation, water and food-borne illnesses can also contribute to the incidence of infant mortality.
- Kiribati also suffers from its lack of developed healthcare infrastructure. Hospital facilities, doctors to assist the population, and trained nurses are all hard to come by in Kiribati. Though they meet standards for routine care, the scarce availability of such facilities makes them hard to access for the general population. With only three district-level hospitals and one referral level hospital, patients often must be sent overseas if serious conditions arise. This remote level of treatment can often make timely access to medicines an issue as well.
- In Kiribati, there is a low number of doctors and nurses relative to the population overall. This low number contributes to the relatively high infant and maternal mortality rates of Kiribati. Recently, the government has worked with smaller groups around Kiribati to train more healthcare professionals. By holding orientation courses for all health staff and developing long-term courses for primary care staff, communities on many of Kiribati’s islands could tackle the lack of healthcare personnel issues. As a result of these programs and increased training, the number of individuals that are able to assist with healthcare is rising, and the rates of morbidity from common diseases have been reduced.
- Water supply is an issue in Kiribati that most don’t directly associate with healthcare and disease, but can have a significant impact on the health of the population. Outdoor defecation is said to be prevalent in Kiribati, which can lead to contamination of the water supply. Groundwater contamination is often related to a higher incidence of diarrheal diseases. However, outdoor defecation is not entirely the result of a lack of other options, but education is necessary to help the population of Kiribati understand the risks associated with it.
In the fight against poverty and for a healthcare system that can serve its entire population, Kiribati has much work to do. Progress has been made in developing training for healthcare professionals and educational programs for communities, but many services such as sanitation and clean water supply still aren’t up to standards. Still, with a government committed to increasing the healthcare provisions for its people, Kiribati is sure to develop into a country that can provide for its growing population.
– Pratik Samir Koppikar