The 2010 Global Burden of Disease study found skin conditions were the fourth leading cause of non-fatal disease burden. There are high rates of illness and death associated with skin disease in Fiji and across the Pacific islands but only four dermatologists live and work in the region. Pacific Dermatology has identified this as a critical health problem for the Pacific people, so aims to increase the number of specialist dermatologists, as well as provide training for general practitioners and nurses.

Specialised medical care and training is recognised as a health priority by the Fiji and other Pacific Ministries of Health. The need for specialist training has also been highlighted as a priority by Australian aid evaluation report “Strengthening specialised clinical services in the Pacific” published by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. However, dermatology training has not yet been included in an Australian Aid programme.

Fiji established a skin clinic in the PJ Twomey Hospital, Tamavua, Suva in 1977. The service has grown to seeing almost 500 patients weekly, at three morning clinics. Data collected at the clinics reveal high rates of illness in populations at increased risk such as children, the elderly and people with non-communicable diseases such as diabetes.

Developing post-graduate training in Dermatology meets two objectives of the 2015 Yanuca Island Declaration detailing decisions and agreements made by Pacific Ministers of Health: children are nurtured in body and mind, and people work and age with dignity. Post-graduate Dermatology training also addresses the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal 3: good health and wellbeing, and the World Health Organisation’s plans for addressing neglected tropical diseases including leprosy, filariasis and scabies.

On 8th February 2019, the Pacific Dermatology Training Centre was formally opened, beginning the journey towards the vision imagined by Dr Margot Whitfeld – access to specialised skin health care for all Pacific people wherever they live. The first four Diploma students graduated in 2019. Read about Dr Va‘a-Fuimaono returning to Samoa to start the first skin clinic there.

Although the global pandemic disrupted some of our plans, we have been able to continue teaching via online video in 2020 and 2021. Three students are undertaking the Diploma in 2021 (from Fiji and Solomon Islands) and one student completed the Diploma in 2020 (from Papua New Guinea).