Staff at two of Vanuatu’s key hospitals await the arrival of two medical staff through a programme with Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA) this month. Doctors Mandy and Jonathan Masters depart Auckland in early May as the first VSA volunteers to leave New Zealand for 15 months.

The high need for medical volunteers in Vanuatu has led to New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs approval for the deployment. Stephen Goodman, Chief Executive Officer, Volunteer Service Aboard says “This is a critical need that can save lives in Vanuatu. Building local medical capacity works towards a sustained professional health sector in Vanuatu. Our VSA Programme Manager, Trevor Johnston, located in Vanuatu, worked with local hospitals to scope the work, and staff in Wellington matched these with the skills Mandy and Jonathan offer. Sending this highly skilled couple into the Pacific will have a major impact for Vanuatu’s healthcare system.”

Dr Mandy Masters and Mr Jonathan Masters are experienced volunteers, having previously volunteered in Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga, Nepal and various countries in Africa through other programmes. Both have extensive medical experience in the United Kingdom and New Zealand, most recently in Whangarei.

Dr Mandy Masters will be working with medical officers and nurses at Northern Provincial Hospital’s Emergency Department which is the main referral centre for local emergencies in the Luganville Municipality and the Sanma province. The hospital also receives patients from the northern provinces of Malampa, Torba and Penama. Medical, surgical, obstetrics and gynaecology services are provided but with emergency medicine a new speciality in Vanuatu, no senior doctor is based in the emergency department who is equipped to assess and manage emergency presentations. Many of the patients have life threatening conditions. In addition to practising emergency medicine Mandy will train local staff in triage in an emergency setting. She will develop protocols to facilitate and sustain care into the future.

Luganville is on the island of Espiritu Santo and Mandy will live here alongside the local community during the one-year assignment. South of Santo is Port Vila, where Mr Jonathan Masters will be volunteering for two weeks each month to work alongside local surgeons. The goal is to enable core urology to be performed by local surgeons, without the need for visiting specialists. As a volunteer Mr Masters will use his experience in teaching to demonstrate how to conduct outpatient assessments, and best practices in Urology. Mr Masters will work predominately with Mr Samuel Kemuel and Mr Trevor CUllwick in Port Vila Provincial Hospital.

Port Vila Provincial Hospital is the main referral hospital in Vanuatu and provides health services to over 78,000 people. There are currently no urological surgeons in Vanuatu and conditions are treated by visiting New Zealand and Australian practitioners who have been unable to visit due to COVID-19 restrictions. The goal is for Vanuatu to be less reliant on visiting teams through education and support by a VSA volunteer programme.
As a VSA representative, both volunteers will be living in the community and encouraged to integrate into local life. They are due to leave with Trevor and Michelle Johnston who live in Luganville, where Trevor works as VSA’s Programme Manager.

Both doctors have undertaken a three-day briefing programme in Wellington that covers living in the Pacific as a volunteer. VSA has been operating for 59 years as a volunteer organisation that upskills locals to provide sustainable development across the Pacific. During COVID-19 the volunteers were repatriated, and development continued through online e-volunteer assignments that have been popular with New Zealander’s who have skills that can be transferred through workshops and online learning. VSA also has volunteer assignments in the Pacific with New Zealanders who are currently living abroad.

VSA staff based in Wellington are excited at the thought of sending volunteers back into the Pacific to continue building strong relationships. Both doctors hope to share their 30 years of medicine, changing the lives of those they work alongside and forging their own unforgettable experiences. VSA is preparing for when borders open more fully, working with local partners in the Pacific to identify needs that build on existing strengths, develop assignments and find New Zealanders who can meet these specific needs for each Pacific country VSA works alongside.

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