Background: The Pacific Island countries consist of widely scattered, small, underdeveloped islands which require considerable international assistance, particularly in health care. In 1995, the Pacific Islands Project was established and funded by AusAID to provide tertiary medical assistance to 10 island countries over a 3-year period. The programme was later expanded to include Papua New Guinea.
Methods: The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons was appointed manager of the project, which involved voluntary input from members of several specialist medical colleges and societies. Assistance was provided through short-term visits of multidisciplinary teams according to predetermined priorities. The delivery of medical services was combined with a transfer of skills and educational activities. Feedback was obtained from the recipient countries and each visit evaluated by an independent committee.
Results: One hundred and thirty-one visits in ten disciplines were conducted in 11 countries by 255 participants on a voluntary basis between March 1995 and March 1998: 15 784 patients were seen and 3424 operations performed.
Conclusions: The programme was very successful on all counts. It has now been extended for a further 3 years and will be conducted in parallel with postgraduate educational programmes in the Pacific region and Papua New Guinea.