Vanuatu medical assistance teams (VanMAT) have for the first time been deployed to the Ambae volcano disaster this week.

PENAMA Provincial Health Administrator and designated Incident Controller, Mr Markleen Tagaro was very happy to receive the assistance of national Emergency Medical Teams (EMT).

“We are very limited in our human resources from a health point of view, and the arrival of EMTs to East and West Ambae is a blessing,” commented Mr Tagaro.

“I am grateful to Dr Andy Ilo, NPH Medical Superintendent and Mr Jivi Mele, the SANMA Provincial Health Manager, for releasing their officers to deploy as members of the EMT’s and come to our aid.”

Speaking from the PENAMA Health Emergency Operations Centre, national EMT coordinator Dr Basil Leodoro says two EMTs deployed on Saturday 7th April to assist with health services for the people of Ambae.

“I can confirm that two VanMAT teams were deployed from SANMA province this past week with one team setting up at Nduindui Health Centre on West Ambae and the second team has been deployed to Lolowai Hospital on East Ambae,” Dr Leodoro said.

“I am grateful to the Australian government, through the Ministry of Health and the National Health Cluster, for supporting these teams to deploy and provide medical, surgical, mental health, psychosocial support, logistics, water, sanitation, surveillance and public health services support to the people of Ambae.”

Recent reports indicate that ash fall covered most of north, east and west Ambae Tuesday night with close to 1cm of ash being measured in some villages on north Ambae.

“The situation is becoming critical in some areas with trees falling and blocking roads,” reports Dr Leodoro.

“We have received reports of houses collapsing due to the weight of the ash.”

This thick ash, combined with rain from the recent tropical cyclone, has made access by road very difficult for the disaster response teams.

The PENAMA Province team and Public Works officers, led by PENAMA Province President, Mr Alban Garae; have been up each day at dawn to clear the roads and allow relief supplies and essential services to reach the evacuation centers, reported Dr Leodoro.

“I am confirming that heavy ash fall has caused skin and eye irritations, and exacerbated breathing conditions like asthma,” continued Dr Leodoro.

“We are also working very closely with our disease surveillance teams to monitor reported cases of Mumps, acute gastroenteritis and dengue in all Ambae residents but particularly those at evacuation centres,” he said.

Some evacuation centres are reported to be quite crowded with provincial Public Health and WASH teams working around the clock to build toilets, provide clean water and sanitation kits and educate evacuees on proper hand hygiene, commented Dr Leodoro.

“We have the Northern Provincial Hospital mental health officer, Registered Nurse Ezekiel Damilip; with us and he is assessing the mental health and psychosocial needs of evacuees and treating those who need urgent clinical management,” Dr Leodoro said.

It has been a challenging task for the Lolowai Hospital management team also.

“Yesterday, heavy ash-fall covered much of the hospital and its solar power farm resulting in major power disruptions to the hospital and our emergency communications centre,” said Dr Leodoro.

“So we have had to unhook the water pump generator and use that to power the EOC (Emergency Operations Centre) and the hospital.”

Daily Post understands that PENAMA Provincial Health EOC is now operational and located at the Lolowai Hospital Nurses hall.

“We ask all health partners, NGOs, churches, individuals and other organizations, to please declare themselves to the EOC and allow us to coordinate any health related activities to the Ambae Volcano disaster, through this central point.

“We see coordination as being the key to an effective response and we welcome our partners to attend our 8am briefings and 4.30pm debriefs daily, in order to remain up to date,” Mr Tagaro said.

Daily Post understands that PENAMA Provincial Health and Lolowai Hospital is still awaiting its new vehicle that will assist in the disaster response.

Dr Leodoro is adamant that national medical assistance teams need to be supported, properly equipped and set up in the two centres of Port Vila and Luganville, ready for deployment at all times.

“The health of our people is a government priority in any disaster and national EMT’s will play a vital role in providing timely and effective health services response during disasters and we will work very closely with our Provincial and national health EOC’s to ensure that we provide a sustained and effective health response here on Ambae,” Dr Leodoro said.

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