Medical team prepares to support Vanuatu disaster relief

Published on LCDR Al Tomlinson (author), ABIS Tom Gibson (photographer)

Lieutenant Commander Mark Stone discusses with the members of  the Maritime Operational Health Unit the contents of the Australian Aid  hygiene kit, pallets of which  the crew of HMAS Tobruk will deliver to the people of Vanuatu as part of Operation Pacific Assist. (photo: ABIS Tom Gibson)
Lieutenant Commander Mark Stone discusses with the members of the Maritime Operational Health Unit the contents of the Australian Aid hygiene kit, pallets of which the crew of HMAS Tobruk will deliver to the people of Vanuatu as part of Operation Pacific Assist.

As HMAS Tobruk arrives in cyclone-ravaged Vanuatu, the ship’s medical team is preparing to do its part, ensuring the health and well-being of ship’s company and embarked forces.   

With considerable Australian Defence Force activity anticipated on shore, it is imperative there are facilities and personnel available to help in the event of injury or illness. 

According to HMAS Tobruk’s Medical Officer Lieutenant Commander Mark Stone, in addition to the significant engineering, communications and logistic support the Tobruk team provides, the ship will be delivering vital humanitarian aid supplies, including Family Hygiene Kits. 

Once delivered to Vanuatu, the kits will be distributed by the National Government according to their identified priorities. 

The kits - which contain over 30 items including soap, toilet paper, laundry detergent and toothpaste - are invaluable when a natural disaster has disrupted normal water and sanitation services. 

“With damage to power and fresh water infrastructure, there is a very real risk of water-born skin and gastro-intestinal diseases. Prevention is always preferable to cure, and with basic hygiene, lives will be saved,” Lieutenant Commander Stone said.

“We know Vanuatu currently has limited medical services, so it is essential these are not overrun by preventable water born diseases spreading among the population.” 

The kits were commissioned by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade who quickly dispatched over 500 to HMAS Tobruk after the Australian Government ordered a major relief operation to Vanuatu. 

Each kit will help a family of five for around a month, supporting up to 2,500 vulnerable people. 

Also included in the kit are other essential items including torches and spare batteries, crucial in helping people move around safely in the dark and prevent injuries from falling. 

Lieutenant Commander Stone believes the kits not only help keep people physically healthy, but mentally as well. 

“It is vital for people who have lost so much - a loved one, their home and possessions – to still maintain their personal dignity,’ Lieutenant Commander Stone said.

Good health and physical well-being is an essential to this, and the Family Hygiene Kit will give people greater control over their lives and more hope for the future."

HMAS Tobruk is deployed in support of Operation PACIFIC ASSIST, as part of the Australian Defence Force support to the Australian Government assistance mission to Vanuatu following the devastation of Tropical Cyclone Pam.

HMAS Tobruk set sail to Vanuatu from the Port of Townsville in mid-march 2015, loaded with much needed supplies and personnel, to help assist in the clean-up following the after math of the cyclone.