Te Mana Hauora O Te Tairawhiti
5 July 2016
In February this year, Cyclone Winston officially became the worst tropical storm recorded in the south pacific. The category 5 storm wreaked havoc across a number of Pacific Islands, especially Fiji, where tens of thousands of people were evacuated from their homes, and many were left without water and electricity.
In the wake of the storm, the New Zealand Ministry of Health dispatched 23 medical professionals from their New Zealand Medical Assistance Team (NZMAT). Hauora Tairāwhiti surgeon Dr Steve Hudson was one of them.
NZMAT is a Ministry of Health led emergency medical team developed following the New Zealand government’s response to the Samoan Tsunami in 2009. It is a civilian-based disaster medical assistance team made up of clinical and allied staff including doctors, nurses, paramedics, allied health and non-medical members such as logisticians.
Six teams were sent to Fiji in the wake of Cyclone Winston; an initial assessment team travelled to Fiji to gauge what response was needed, two public health teams who worked within the islands to prevent to outbreak of disease and set up mobile clinics, two surgical teams were based the Colonial War Memorial Hospital in Suva, and an operations team coordinated the response to ensure everything worked as smoothly as possible.
Steve Hudson was one of two surgeons dispatched to Suva “We were called in to help clear a backlog of patients. Staff at the hospital were burned out after the initial response to Winston, and they needed help to keep the hospital staffed while their team recovered.” Whilst at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital Steve completed 23 surgeries or procedures “most of my surgeries were elective procedures,” however, this wasn’t without challenges. Steve continued, “Many Fijians use traditional medicine before seeking medical assistance, some of the cases presented were much more advanced than those we see in New Zealand, as some in the community consider treatment in a hospital as a last resort.”
The NZMAT response was very well received by Fiji authorities, Colonial War Memorial (CWM) Hospital medical superintendent Dr Jemesa Tudravu said “In hindsight, one of the most important decisions that we made was to agree for the New Zealand team to come and backfill at CWM Hospital because when the adrenaline ebbed after the first week and everybody was getting exhausted, it was good to know that there was a team on the ground that was doing the work,” Dr Tudravu said. “And it was a good team of fellowship holders and specialists who ably held the fort and we were able to sit back and take a deep breath.”
As is the case in most medical emergencies, Steve wasn’t afforded time to plan for a last minute trip to the Islands, “It happened very quickly, I received the call on Sunday and was dispatched to Fiji on Tuesday. I had to drop everything here and just go.” Steve spent two weeks performing surgeries in Fiji as part of the NZMAT. However, he is quick to acknowledge everyone who made the experience possible. “It was easy for me to dash off and play the hero, but it also affected people back here at home. I am extremely grateful for the support of my colleagues who stepped in to help re-schedule my patients and manage my workload in my absence. Also a huge thank you to my wife, who looked after my family and supported me throughout this experience. Without the people behind the NZMAT team, aid missions like Fiji could not happen; they deserve just as much recognition as me.”
NZMAT is a multidisciplinary team of medical staff who provide a health emergency response to an affected area. The team is made up of professionals form a number of fields including paramedics, surgery, emergency medicine, primary care, public health, mental health and logistics to name just a few. As well as Steve Hudson, Hauora Tairawhiti's Health Protection Officer Cyrena Bennett and Medical officer of Health Margot McLean are also signed up to NZMAT.
To be considered for a NZMAT deployment you need to;