IOM Steps up Health Assistance to Displaced Communities in Post-Crisis Vanuatu

Posted: 
03/27/15

Vanuatu - An IOM team continues its mission in Vanuatu, visiting some of the most inaccessible islands cut off from the outside world since the March 13 Cyclone ripped through the Pacific archipelago.  

Working alongside the National Disaster Management Organization (NDMO), IOM continues to provide targeted health assistance to displaced families in Vanuatu, conduct pre-departure medical screenings and provide measles vaccinations for children under 5.

IOM has assisted the Vanuatu authorities with the registration of 37 households on devastated Mataso Island in Sheffa Province, a sheer mountain jutting out of the ocean, with one small village at its southern tip. The Organization is also performing fit-to-travel health checks of residents prior to their evacuation to the capital Port Vila.

“We were stunned at the cataclysmic devastation we saw on Mataso,” said IOM’s Maria Moita, who visited the tiny, jagged island yesterday. “Even at the best of times this is a wild and inhospitable place. To our Western eyes it is astonishing that communities like this can survive at the best of times: that they can weather destruction like this is tribute to their resilience, to generations of tradition, and to excellent early-warning work by the government.”

Some Islands in the path of Cyclone Pam took exceptional damage, with livelihoods and infrastructure being almost totally destroyed. The National Disaster Management Committee (NDMO) in collaboration with local leaders has offered temporary evacuation of those still residing on Mataso until conditions are improved.

“We’re assisting the Government to evacuate the most vulnerable people from Islands that have become uninhabitable, and ensuring that families are in the right condition to travel. Children under 5 are especially at risk of exposure to measles, so we’re paying particular attention to their needs, administering vaccinations when required,” said George Gigauri, IOM surge team leader in Vanuatu.      

While early recovery activities are being planned, the most vulnerable groups—including the elderly, children and pregnant women—are voluntarily being relocated to host communities in the capital. Families with connections in Mataso have arranged to provide support to those relocated in collaboration with a local church, and will send a group of local volunteers to the small island over Easter to assist in clean-up and rehabilitation efforts. 

IOM medical staff conducted pre-departure medical checks as well as measles immunization for children under 5 on Mataso. There have recently been a number of measles cases in Port Vila so it is essential to ensure that children are adequately protected before coming to the capital city.

IOM is planning to develop an assisted discharge and referral system for patients referred to Vila Central Hospital from other islands. A total of 46 patients have been referred since the cyclone, and whilst many of these have been discharged and are staying with family in Port Vila, several need support to return to their home islands.

IOM support will ensure that vulnerable patients are not faced with additional transport costs to return home, and where possible are connected with out-patient care. The goal is to free critically needed beds in the country’s main referral hospital, which is serving as the main inpatient facility for the entire affected area.

“We are assisting the Ministry of Health and the National Disaster Management Office in linking health and displacement management to ensure that people and patients who have already been significantly affected by the cyclone are not exposed to greater risks and supported for healthy relocation and return,” said Dr. Patrick Duigan, IOM surge health officer in Vanuatu.

IOM has also been supporting the Ministry of Health in conducting public health assessments and event based surveillance monitoring in evacuation centres to monitor public health risks and ensure that any issues are identified at the earliest possible stage.

“In addition to the increased public health risks after an emergency, people who are displaced are often more vulnerable due to the initial effects of displacement and then the conditions in which they reside or return. Linking health to displacement management is a critical element of ensuring that these people are cared for throughout the relief and recovery process,” Dr. Duigan added. 

IOM’s Migration Health Department, as a member of the Global Health Cluster, supports governments and provides Migration Health Assistance for Crisis Affected Populations in humanitarian situations across the globe.

For further information please contact:

In Vanuatu: George Gigauri, Tel: +678 546 9671; Email: ggigauri@iom.int

Dr. Lesi Korovavala, Tel: +678 595 5049, Email: lkorovavala@iom.int

In Bangkok:  Joe Lowry, Tel: +6681 870 808, Email: jlowry@iom.int

Brian Kelly, Tel:  +6681 832 6802 Email: bkelly@iom.int