This is the first time the annual Pasifika Medical Association (PMA) has partnered with the Vanuatu Medical and Dental Association and in conjunction with the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists’ (RANZCP) Faculty with over 300 participants from Australia and New Zealand including Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu in Port Vila.
Health professionals across the Pacific were in Vanuatu to be part of the discussions on local and regional issues that influence the health and wellbeing of Pacific families – with an emphasis on mental health and psychiatric practise for children and adolescents.
Mrs Debbie Sorensen, PMA chief executive says the PMA invited RANZCP because it recognises the importance of mental health and primary care in the Pacific.
“It has been a very successful conference.”
“Medical specialists from Australia and New Zealand were able to come together and collaborate with local practitioners to learn how to treat and manage people with mental illness.”
Mrs Sorensen said the conference has strengthened their relationships with key organisations such as RANZCP and Pacific mental health colleagues, and is an excellent step in solidifying those relationships, and share mental health skills and experiences.
“We had fantastic presenters covering many areas from young people’s mental health and wellbeing after trauma to parenting in different cultures, depression in adolescents, human rights, family violence, and clinical challenges for Pacific countries, to traditional healing and the use of traditional medicine.”
“What a great choice of venue and timing by PMA,” says Mrs Sorensen.
“It’s fitting that this conference was held in a Melanesian country as it recognises the invaluable role that countries like Vanuatu has in dealing with the aftermath of natural disasters.”
By holding the conference in Vanuatu, the PMA was determined to strengthen partnerships that support the development of healthcare and services in the Pacific, as well as contributing to the local economy of Vanuatu.
“From Vanuatu’s perspective,” echoed the President of Vanuatu, His Excellency Mr Baldwin Lonsdale in his opening remarks, “the conference comes at a very important time for Vanuatu and our people.”
“Although cyclone Pam has destroyed our Island physically, it did not destroy us mentally and spiritually.”
A one-day workshop on disaster management training was held focusing on Cyclone Pam, and on solutions regarding pressing problems that were encountered during the aftermath of natural disasters.
During the conference a group of fourteen newly trained Ni Vanuatu doctors were honoured.
These were newly trained Ni Vanuatu doctors who have recently returned from studying for at least six years in countries including Cuba, Fiji and China.
The interns’ training committee member and head of surgery in Vanuatu Dr Basil Leodoro was extremely excited for these new doctors taking part in the conference which gave them an opportunity to network as they embark on their medical practise.
Another success to the conference was the book launch.
The Ni-Van Navigators book titled “Vanuatu Health Leaders Share Their Stories”, featured stories written by pioneering Vanuatu medical professionals reflecting on their medical experience and journeys as clinicians for the Vanuatu community.
“It was incredible and I am sure will remain one of the most memorable event in the PMA Conferences ever,” says Mrs Sorensen.
Mrs Sorensen says the book captures the real life practices of 10 Vanuatu medical professionals who has contributed their story inspired by their own medical experiences.
Featuring in the book are Dr Sereana Natuman, Dr Basil Leodoro, Dr Tildena Mandavah, Dr Willie Tokon, Dr Hensley Garae, Dr Errolyn Tungunaboe, Dr Trevor Cullwick, Dr Tony Harry, Dr Richard Leona and Dr Samuel Kemuel and is a wonderful resource for people interested in healthy communities.
“We hope the stories in this book will inspire the next generation of doctors, nurses and health leaders in the Pacific,” says Mrs Sorensen.
The recipient of the PMA of the Year award 2015 was also recognised.
Dr Richard Leona, was this year’s recipient of the PMA award.
“It was a shock. I could never have thought that I will be honoured. It’s one of those things that takes you by complete surprise.”
“The timing was really amazing. It was thrilling for me to accept the award in my home country and how important this recognition was for me,” says Dr Leona.
“Dr Leona has been an influential figure in the evolution of a Vanuatu health system run by Ni-Vanuatu doctors and specialists. In recent years he has helped to introduce a host of new surgical services and equipment at Vila Central Hospital. He has also been active in improving local health services and training.”
“These awards are important because they recognise the great work done by health specialists across a number of services, including hospices, hospitals and NGOs. Dr Leona’s work in the community encourages those around him to give back.”
“While some of the Ni-Vanuatu healthcare professionals will be well-known names in the PMA, every one of this year’s award winners have made a significant contribution to their country and communities, and to the lives of many Pacific peoples,” says Mrs Sorensen.
Aside from Dr Leona’s success, another positive success that came out of the conference was the announcement of Dr Joe Williams as the PMA inaugural Patron.
The President of the PMA, Dr Kiki Maoate says, “Having Dr Williams agree to be our patron is a perfect fit for our organisation.”
Dr Williams not only the former Cook Islands Prime Minister, he has served more than 50 years as a general practitioner, medical researcher, mentor and health advocate.
He’s the author of the book Eczema and leads the team of medical professionals at the Integrated Family Health Centre Clinic in Mt Wellington.
Throughout the week health delegates has deliberated over many other biggest health challenges Pacific Islands people face, in particular issues such as dealing with mental health problems and primary care.
Another interesting presentation at the conference was on the New Zealand Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme.
A scheme that allows the entry of temporary workers from overseas predominantly from the Pacific to work in the horticulture and viticulture industries, which often suffer from a shortage of local workers.
Workers from Vanuatu already comprised almost half of the capped RSE positions (9000) available for people from the Pacific in one year. And when it comes to health issues Vanuatu is also at the top of the list.
Issues such as problematic behaviour linked to alcohol, drink driving and health problems are common.
Despite such issues Lafaele Lupo, Immigration NZ spokesperson defended the scheme stating that RSE has very low rates of overstaying.
Other than the RSE workshop the focus was more on Culture, Community and Healing’ with emphasis on Child, Youth and Family Mental Health and Primary Care in the Pacific.
“It was a very successful conference and we cannot do it without our partners and the Government of Vanuatu.”
Mrs Sorensen says the Vanuatu Ministry of Health played their part and contributed a huge influential role by working with our team to guarantee a well organised and smooth conference.
“We are indebted and honoured to have met with health professionals from other Pacific Island countries including Australia and New Zealand.”
“To the President of Vanuatu, His Excellency Mr Baldwin Lonsdale thank you for hosting us.”
Mrs Sorensen reflected on the growth of the PMA conference since it was first conceptualised in 1996.
She noted that now, rather than being inspirational, the conference is now shifting to a more actual practice and delivering support services.
“The PMA has delivered support services to the health sector since 1996. From providing policy advice to government and advocating on health issues to running training programmes, the PMA does extraordinary work representing Pacific health professionals and promoting health as a career to young people.”
“Our organisation is a network of Pacific health professionals, working collaboratively to strengthen Pacific health workforce capacity and capability and meet the health needs of Pacific people in the region,” says Mrs Sorensen.
There already talks that the next PMA conference will be held in Wellington.