Strengthening Pacific Health Systems

Strengthening Pacific Health Systems


Imagine having to deliver health services to a population dispersed across dozens of atolls and island groups, covering a distances of up to 5000 kilometres, with slow internet, extremely high operational costs as well as infrequent transport links. This is the reality for many Pacific island countries that face unique logistical and financial challenges in designing and delivering health care, where and when they are needed by their populations.

Specialist and hospital-based care is limited to areas that are densely populated – locations where they can be properly resourced and staffed such as Apia, Honiara and Suva. These means that people often have to travel long distances and at great cost, to receive the care that they need. Some smaller PICs are unable to offer specialist services, meaning that they need to make overseas medical referrals more frequently than other countries at similar stages of development.  As a result, PICs spend a disproportionate percentage of health finance on medical referrals and evacuations, both within and outside the country. These referrals also involve high indirect costs – to patients, their families and society more broadly.

Pacific governments acknowledge these challenges and are making good progress on their path towards universal health coverage, working hard to emphasize prevention and primary care, and bringing quality health services closer to communities. WHO is working with governments and their partners to strengthen Pacific Island health systems towards the Healthy Islands vision. This involves for example, work to strengthen health sector leadership and governance, increase access to essential medicines, and safeguard the population from antimicrobial resistance, support continuing professional development to the health workforce through POLHN, and guide efforts to develop health information systems. All these efforts will contribute to improving the quality and coverage of essential health services, while protecting people from financial hardship, in line with the PICs commitment to the goal of UHC.

Key facts

  • Almost all Pacific Island countries are formally registering more than 50% of deaths, ahead of the global average.
  • 12 out of 21 Pacific Island countries have met the goal of 4.5 health workers per 1000 population.
  • While the global average of total health expenditure per capita is around 1000 USD per year, ten Pacific Island Countries out of 19 PICs spend 500 USD or less per capita per year.