Delivering health services to more than half a million people scattered across 90 islands offers many challenges, but these are being met head on through an innovative plan and a 'can do' attitude by Solomon Islands Ministry of Health.

Leading the ministry's efforts to improve quality and access to health services and placing trained, skilled medical staff at clinics and provincial hospitals is Permanent Secretary, Dr Lester Ross.

"We all know the challenges of providing health services to a population which live mostly in rural and remote areas, so we need the right structures, systems and processes to meet these demands," said Dr Ross.

"We've recognised that our approach was not working as well as it could and delivery of health services was falling down outside Honiara. Our job is to provide health services for all our people, so we need a long term plan for the health system to meet the future needs of the country."

According to Dr Ross, important gains have been achieved since moving away from ad hoc, small scale projects to an innovative sector-wide approach with donors.

"We've embraced a sector wide approach where the ministry of health works with donors to agree on health priorities. This is a more effective way of working together and reduces fragmentation and duplication."

AusAID Counsellor, Juliette Brassington said Australia's support to the new approach known as the SWAp, underpins the Solomon Islands Government's own strategic health plan.

"Australia is the largest donor in the health sector, providing around 40 per cent of the government's annual health budget, so through the SWAp, we work closely with the Ministry of Health to improve their systems, planning and coordination."

"During the last year, we've learnt how to work in and through Solomon Islands systems to influence change. By helping government strengthen their financial and procurement systems, it lays the foundation for effective, quality health services."

"The SWAp highlights how results can be achieved with strong engagement from the health ministry and ownership of their own health priorities."

Dr Ross said the SWAp is now contributing to better health outcomes in Solomon Islands.

"Around 86 per cent of babies are now being delivered with the help of skilled health workers, significantly reducing the risk of maternal and neonatal deaths."

"Routine immunisation is also a good indicator for healthy children and over 90 per cent of children are being vaccinated against polio in 2011 (up from 79 per cent in 2010) and 76 per cent vaccinated against measles (up from 68 per cent in 2010). There is also a significant improvement in the availability of essential medicines."

Ms Brassington said improving health in Solomon Islands is complex and requires a long term commitment.

"We need to work across the full spectrum and look at innovative ways to strengthen the systems that deliver health services. This includes making sure health systems are financed adequately, there are enough trained staff, medicines and equipment available and the Ministry can plan, monitor and regulate effectively," said Ms Brassington.

"It is vital that all of these elements are dealt with to ensure health services are delivered effectively."

Ms Brassington said the Solomon Islands Government is developing their policies and delivering their health services, supported by the SWAp.

"This will strengthen the country's health systems and ensure that results are long lasting, planning is effective, resources are distributed efficiently and equitably and efforts are coordinated. "

"AusAID is now using the lessons from the Solomon Islands SWAp and applying them to other countries in the region. "

"The success achieved in working in partner systems to strengthen health services and improve health for all Solomon Islanders is now a model being used in many parts of the Australian aid program across the region."

Source: Press Release, Australian High Commission, Solomon Islands