The Ministry of Health and Medical Services has warned that unless doctor training is vigorously pursued as a matter of priority by the Solomon Islands Government, the country will continue to experience a critical shortage of doctors for years to come.

The Ministry's Under Secretary Health Care, Dr. Cedrik Alependava, stated that ideally, when the National Referral Hospital (NRH) requires up to thirty (30) specialists to man its various specialist departments, you have to put up with about eight (8).

"This is putting a lot of stress on them but there is no viable option right now and the situation in the Provinces is in a much more critical situation," Alependava said.

In two of the big provinces, Malaita and Western Province, the ideal position is for them to have ten doctors each including a number of specialists, but there are only five in Malaita and three in Gizo and they are all junior doctors and no specialists, as according to the Under Secretary of the Ministry for Health.

"This is a situation where you not only pose a real threat to the lives of people in the rural areas, but there are economic, financial, and social costs to the country, because the junior doctors in the provinces can do so much and refer other cases out of their reach to the National Referral Hospital (NRH)," says Dr. Alependava.

He said that it would be much more cheaper for the country had we had specialists in the provinces because they could deal with most of these cases in the provinces, but coming to Honiara costs money and tremendous economic and social problems for all concerned, particularly the Minister, the patients and their relatives.

Alependava explained that the critical situation faced by the country now has been created by the fact that out of the one hundred and ten (110) doctors the country produced, thirty-five (35) of who are mostly specialists are now working overseas, where the pay is good.

The influx of local doctors overseas came after a dispute over pay conditions for doctors leading to a nation wide strike by doctors in 1991 and when the Government still refused to improve their conditions many of them left to work overseas.

When the Kemakeza Government finally introduced a scheme of service for them giving them far better conditions than before, they are still not enough to lure back those employed in other countries where the conditions are much, much better according to Alependava.

The majority of them are in Australia and New Zealand, followed by Papua New Guinea and Fiji.