Signing of the MOU with Director General of Health, Mr Mark Bebe at the Ministry of Health in Port Vila

The Butterfly Trust arrived at Port Vila Harbour in the early hours of 19 June 2011. Shortly after we met up with Viran Tovu, the Acting Senior Health Planner from Vanuatu’s Ministry of Health (“MOH”) to discuss proposed medical assistance to the Maskelynes. The Maskelynes are a group of islands lying off the southeast corner of Malekula, one of the larger islands in the Vanuatu group.

On the Maskelynes, individuals requiring basic medical attention visit the Reverend Fred Paton Centenary Clinic (also known as the Sangalai Clinic) on the main island of Uliveo. This clinic has been managed solely by Charlie Siniu (Registered Nurse) for the past 7 years. There are also aid posts on nearby Avock Island and Akam village. Both aid posts are staffed by individuals who have completed a 6-month certified Nurse Aid course at Norsup Hospital in Northern Malekula.

 The MOH acknowledges that Vanuatu suffers from an acute shortage of trained medical personnel across all levels of health facilities throughout this country of 83 islands. Combined with an ageing workforce and poor access to services in remote areas, the provision of primary healthcare is still a paramount priority for the MOH. Mr Tovu advised that Vanuatu is currently short of 400 nurses. For those living in the Maskelynes, the journey to the closest provincial hospital in Lamap involves a 45-55 minute ride on an open motor boat dodging coral reefs and ocean swells to a landing point on a beach. This is followed by a ride on the back of a pickup truck.

As a result of our discussions with Viran Tovu, on 7 July, the Butterfly Trust signed a Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) with the MOH to facilitate the provision of medical services to health facilities in the Maskelynes beginning in 2012. The Butterfly Trust will assist by providing suitably qualified medical personnel (doctors, dentists, nurses) as well as any necessary medical and dental equipment and medicines. To encourage the sharing of resources and ideas and to foster overall independence from external assistance long term, key emphasis will be placed on training new staff and upskilling existing ni-Vanuatu health workers. Ideally, health and hygiene education programmes and talks will be a regular occurrence at the local primary schools, kindergartens, community centres and brand new Women’s Resource Centre. The initial term of the MOU is for 5 years with a clause allowing for an expansion of similar activities to other areas of Vanuatu should resources and expenses allow.

 The Butterfly Trust recognises that this work may overlap with a number of longstanding medical projects and volunteers working in these and other outer islands. We believe in a coordinated approach to maximise available resources and to achieve the best possible outreach. We would like to hear from any group or individual currently working in or around the Maskelynes or who is interested in becoming involved.