“COME & BE HEALED”
With a population of 260,000, 32 doctors* and a shortage of nurses, access to primary healthcare remains a formidable challenge for the majority of ni-Vans living in the outlying areas of Vanuatu. Other hurdles slowing down access to quality primary healthcare are the cost of training, the lack of proper training facilities and personnel, and the problem of transport across 83 different islands, many of which are geographically isolated from the urban centres.
The majority of Vanuatu’s doctors are permanently based at two regional referral hospitals and three provincial hospitals. This, combined with the shortage of nurses, dentists and eye-care specialists, means that a substantial portion of primary health care delivery to remote areas is still being catered for by overseas medical personnel working as volunteers. Some groups return on a regular basis, either focusing on a single catchment area or rotating through different locations on subsequent visits. Others provide financial support in the form of overseas courses and placement programmes in a bid to help selected ni-Van health workers improve their skills. With a broad range of health aid currently being driven by the government’s development partners, local and overseas NGOs and churches, as well as individual volunteers, we want to ensure that our involvement will build on what has already been established.
We have been fortunate to have had a number of highly qualified and motivated doctors and nurses, dentists and dental therapists, work with us over the years. Some return each year and return to clinics and hospitals where they have forged relationships with the local communities. This is particularly so at Lamap and the offshore islands of southeast Malekula, and at Norsup Hospital in north Malekula. Our medical personnel have engaged in both clinical work and training and mentoring of local health practitioners.
At the Lamap Health Centre in Malekula we have also established a dental clinic in partnership with the Ministry of Health. This dental clinic has been operating since 2013 and we are hoping to hand over full responsibility for its operation to the Ministry of Health by 2023.
We are also working at increasing local community health knowledge. To do this we are concentrating on assisting local health educators become more proficient at teaching local communities about basic public health awareness eg. washing hands, healthy nutrition, and basic wound care. This programme of community health education is being carried out primarily in Shefa Province, and before its evacuation after volcanic eruptions, was piloted on the island of Ambae.
However, at the same time as working at local community level, we have also recognised that without the support of central and regional government, a lot of work at the grass-roots level can be ineffectual. We therefore work at governmental levels to ensure that any grass-roots programmes fit the national strategic plans. In this regard, for example, our community health education programme for the Shefa province is run in conjunction with the management team from Shefa Regional Health.
We have also begun a project investigating the establishment of a palliative care programme for the whole of Vanuatu. We spent 2017 and 2018 gathering information and have presented a report of our findings to the Ministry of Health.
*2010 figure as sourced from Vanuatu’s Annual Development Report