In the archipelago of Vanuatu, set in the blue of the South Pacific, the far, northern islands are so remote that the basic supplies for a healthy life are lacking.
For many centuries the people have relied on the herbal remedies from their plentiful surrounds. The community medicine man has dispensed his healing faith. The power of black magic has been blamed for many illnesses.
At long last the people of Motolava Island have a “trained” medical assistant. He has arrived from a nearby island replaced there by a doctor, provided via a charitable organization.
assistant steps into the shack that acts as the local clinic, he is struck by the empty shelves. There are no bandages, no dressings, no ointments, no disinfectants; just a few headache tablets.
He surveys the smiling, laughing children playing in the village. A boy of 8 years has an open wound incurred from a stake in the bush. A 6 year old girl, one of many, is suffering from scabies. A 10 year old limps across the bare earth as if he has always walked in this manner. Mothers cuddle and cajole babies racked with deep seated coughs. Where does he start to make a difference?
As he tours the village with the huts built directly on the hard-packed soil, he sees curled on hand-woven mats a child whimpering with the fever of malaria. With the recent long wet season from December to April, the mosquitoes are severe. This region is renowned for malaria.
The chair of AusAIDs malaria reference group, Professor Sir Richard Feachem, acknowledges that malaria is the biggest killer of children throughout Melanesia. But he has high hopes for a country like Vanuatu where blood tests identified that only 3% of 5000 children tested has been in contact with malaria. Further plans, projects and money are to be provided to make the region disease-free by 2015. But how long will it be before these remote, northern islanders see the benefit? How many more small children will succumb?
These islanders living in no-cash economies are unable to purchase the latest in medicines, to buy chemically treated mosquito nets, to benefit from staff trained in supporting communities.
Harris Arop, the local Secretary for Motolava, suggests that he contacts one group that can help. He uses the villages only solar powered phone to call the capital, Port Vila, and the YouMe Support Foundation.
YouMe Support Foundation, a Child Trust Fund, has been assisting these islands since 2004. It is dedicated to giving the children a chance to lead a healthy life, an educated life, with a high school education within reach.
In response to this urgent request, YouMe Support Foundation gathered 30 kgs of basic medical supplies. Air freight was organised to get these goods there faster, but like many good plans in Vanuatu, things go astray. Meanwhile the boxes sit packed, taped and addressed under the office windows.
Communication and transportation to these outer northern islands is random. Perhaps the flight did not go due to lack of paying passengers, or perhaps there was a priority elsewhere. Shipping cannot be relied upon either; taking months to reach its destination.