More Top Stories


Alleged rapist in remand

27 April 2024

Rugby league

Moana target 2025 World Cup

11 November 2022

Medical teams tell of Fiji’s devastation

Wednesday 9 March 2016 | Published in Regional


suva – It was the most devastating tropical cyclone to ever strike the Southern Hemisphere. When Cyclone Winston made landfall in Fiji on February 20, it took more than 40 lives, and left a trail of destruction affecting 350,000 people.

Schools, buildings, crops and people were all indiscriminately targeted.

After a request for help by the Fijian Government, the first team of about 20 Australian medical staff — nurses, doctors and paramedics — arrived a few days after the tropical storm hit to assist the local response.

The ABC spoke with members of the Australian Medical Assistance Team (AusMAT) as they headed home after two weeks of medical outreach work in Fiji.

Darwin nurse Mistee Brett was on her first deployment with AusMAT, a team assembled by the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre in Darwin.

Brett described the local response to Cyclone Winston as astounding.

“The experiences of walking into villages of people who have nothing and them offering you their lunch for the day. That just – it still blows me away that they could be so generous despite having nothing,” Brett said.

The medical teams are sourced from around Australia and have already treated more than 1000 local people, but with the scale of devastation, it is not a job for the faint-hearted.

“The workload’s been heavy. We have seen, I think, in about the last four days, roughly about 160 patients, the majority of whom have been children and the elderly,” Brett said.

She also described the difficulty of reaching certain areas due to debris and blocked roads.

The first deployment based themselves in the Rakiraki region to assist the local hospital, before heading out to more remote villages.

Australian doctor Dr Rob Cardwell said the only way to reach some areas was by foot.

“We’ve driven probably about an hour or so north of Koravu, the main town, half of which is sort of on gravel roads, across a couple of creek crossings. To get to this settlement we’ve had a couple of kilometres’ walk through the bush,” Dr Cardwell said.

The Australian team was keen to emphasise its supporting role, and said it was the Fijian Health Department and local staff who had taken the lead.

“In these mobile teams and in the hospital, we’ve been working very closely with our Fijian colleagues, very much learning from them as to how they manage cases locally,” Dr Cardwell said.

However, the sheer scale of the category five storm overwhelmed the country’s medical services, and disease is setting in.

“We’re starting to see some of the communicable diseases, so some soft tissue infections, minor injuries now but with infections associated. There’s some respiratory tract infections starting as well,” Dr Cardwell said.

Many local staff have been working since the cyclone hit last month, despite losing their own homes.

Giving staff a break has also been part of the job of the Australians.

“The experience has been so rewarding. The people are just amazing, so resilient and happy and thankful for what we’re doing, which makes it really easy for us,” Brett said.

A second and final team of 15 has now arrived in Fiji to relieve medical staff for at least another week. - ABC