Vanuatu: Medical Treatment to Villages on Remote Islands Three Months After Cyclone Pam

Vanuatu, a South Pacific island country, was struck by a great cyclone on the 13th and 14th of March. The impact was catastrophic; as many as 166,000 people or more – over half the total population – were affected. AAR Japan reached the disaster-stricken area four days after the disaster and distributed relief goods such as clothing and household items to a total of 306 households (approximately 1,530 people) in villages on the eastern part of Efate Island, where the capital city, Port Vila, is located. We are currently providing medical assistance through a local partner, VFHA (Vanuatu Family Health Association). Ryo KAKUTANI from AAR Tokyo Office, who was dispatched to Vanuatu in May, reports.

In March and April, AAR Japan distributed emergency goods such as clothing and kitchen utensils on Efate Island. Ryo KAKUTANI from AAR Japan is pictured on the right. (April 2nd, 2015)

Medical staff goes around villages with no clinics

When I first arrived at Vanuatu in the aftermath of the Cyclone, there were still many houses with their roofs or walls blown away. When I visited the islands again two months later, the residents had almost completely repaired their houses on their own, and the vegetable fields had also been revived. However, I could see that they still had a lot of difficulty accessing medical care and hygiene.

In Vanuatu, most of the houses are made of wood or straw. Damaged houses had been mostly reconstructed by the villagers themselves.(Pongovioyo, Epi Island, Vanuatu,  May 19th, 2015)
At present, AAR Japan is conducting itinerant health checkups by collaborating with the local health care organization VFHA on six of the affected islands.

One of those islands is Epi Island, which is one of the larger islands among the 83 that make up Vanuatu. Regular liners connect between the capital city Port Vila and Epi Island. One of the challenges the islanders faced was that it took more than one hour to reach a medical facility from their villages by car. Sudden illness or child labor could be fatal. Those who were reluctant to go to a medical facility because of the distance could seek consultation if itinerant nurses came to their villages. To improve this situation, a medical team from VFHA stayed at Epi Island for one week from May 15th, and carried out medical activities such as pregnancy checkups, HIV tests as well as the treatment of malaria, diarrhea, and stomach aches.

Port Vila (marked in red), the capital of Vanuatu, and Epi Island (marked in yellow)
AAR Japan invited villagers to a lecture on HIV, where they could choose to take a HIV test for free. Ryo KAKUTANI from AAR Japan is pictured on the right. (Pongovioyo, Epi Island, Vanuatu, May 18th, 2015)
A VFHA nurse examines a child suffering from a stomach ache. The mother told KAKUTANI, “We usually cannot go to a hospital. I am very relieved that a nurse came to visit our village.” (Marvasi, Epi Island, Vanuatu, May 20th, 2015) 

Towards safe childbirth

On May 17th, a nurse from VFHA assisted Marta in Pongoviyo Village delivering her baby. In this village, most women deliver their babies at home because hospitals are too far away. As they have to give birth in an unsterilized environment, mothers are concerned about infections. “This time, I felt at ease because a nurse was with me”, said the mother and her family with smiles on their faces.

The family of Marta and Joel shortly after giving birth to a baby. Both Marta (second from the right) and her new baby girl appeared to be healthy. Pictured on the right is Ryo KAKUTANI from AAR Japan. (Pongoviyo, Epi Island, Vanuatu, May 19th, 2015)
AAR Japan has been carrying out itinerant health checkups from April to July on Epi Island and five other islands which suffered severe damages after the cyclone. On Tanna Island, people were very delighted with the itinerant nurses, saying “This is the first time that a nurse visited our island since we became independent in 1980 from the joint government of England and France.” AAR Japan will continue its assistance, including the medical checkups on remote islands in collaboration with VFHA. We are also considering the installment of water tanks in areas where access to water is limited.

Ryo KAKUTANI, AAR Japan Tokyo Headquarters Office
After graduation from university, KAKUTANI worked for an overseas diplomatic office for two and a half years. He then started working at AAR Japan in September 2007. After being stationed at Tajikistan, South Sudan, Haiti and Turkey, he is now in charge of Vanuatu operations at the AAR Japan Tokyo office. (profile at the time of the article)
Japanese-English translation by Ms. Hiroko Hida
English editing by Ms. Alice Chee

This article has been translated by volunteers as part of the AAR Japan's Volunteer Programme. Their generous contributions allow us to spread our activities and ideas globally, through an ever-growing selection of our reports from the field.