KIRIBATI, 19 April 2012 - Three state-of-the-art incubators are saving the lives of at-risk newborns in this Pacific island country thanks to a donation from the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for the Western Pacific.

On 7 March, WHO Country Liaison Officer Dr André Reiffer handed over the incubators and a refrigerator for paediatric drugs to Minister for Health and Medical Services Dr Kautu Tenaua at the children's ward of Tungaru Central Hospital on Tarawa atoll.

"WHO is pleased to have been able to respond to the request for assistance from the hospital staff," says WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Dr Shin Young-soo. "We hope the equipment will contribute to Kiribati's already great progress in reducing early childhood disease and death."

The donation was a direct result of a visit that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his wife, Ban Soon-taek, made to Kiribati in September 2011, accompanied by Dr Shin.

While Mrs Ban was passing through the children's ward of Tungaru Central Hospital, a nurse, unbeknownst to WHO and health ministry officials, handed her a handwritten note for Mr Ban requesting essential equipment.

Mr Ban shared the note with Dr Shin, who consulted with the Ministry of Health and confirmed the hospital's needs before providing WHO support to purchase the incubators and refrigerator.

A 9 March letter to Mr Ban from the Ministry of Health expresses "much appreciation and heartfelt gratitude" for the gifts.

"It is very much hoped that the use of such medical equipment would help in a lot of ways [to] support the improvement of newborn and child health in Kiribati, and is really reflective of the commitment of the United Nations in support of worldwide efforts in improving infant and child mortality, which is one key Millennium Development Goal that countries like Kiribati in the Pacific region continually aspire to tackle," the letter reads.

Adds Dr Reiffer: "The incubators are proving instrumental for improving the quality of child care at the hospital. Furthermore, the refrigerator is helping to preserve drugs and suppositories for children in a country where the average ambient temperature is around 30o C."