New Zealand’s Medical Assistance Team helps cyclone-ravaged Tonga

News article

23 February 2018

The New Zealand Medical Assistance Team (NZMAT) has been instrumental in providing vital supplies to authorities in Tonga to help minimise the spread of disease in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Gita. 

NZMAT members help with the post-Gita recovery in Tonga
NZMAT members help with the post-Gita recovery in Tonga.

A Forward Planning Team was deployed as part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade-led initial assessment to support the New Zealand High Commission in Nuku'alofa Tonga. 

The Forward Planning Team was led by the Ministry of Health's Director - Emergency Management, Charles Blanch. It included an emergency medicine specialist from Middlemore Hospital and a dedicated logistician from Fire & Emergency New Zealand.  These staff had a wealth of experience and had responded to previous disasters in Fiji in 2016, as well as co-ordinating emergency medical teams in Sierra Leone during the Ebola virus disease outbreak there in 2015. 

Charles Blanch said it was great to see New Zealand agencies working so effectively together in the field to support our Pacifica neighbours.

“From getting a request to deploy at 8pm to being fully loaded at Whenuapai airbase with a self-sufficient team at 11:00 am the next day awaiting clearance to depart reflects a huge amount of work by the team. The Western Pacific WHO region contains five of the 13 globally classified Emergency Medical Teams and this response demonstrates the value of this initiative” 

“The Tongan authorities and the public were well prepared and there were very few serious injuries. Our role was primarily to enable the rapid entry and set-up of an emergency medical team if there had been an acute clinical need. 

“When it became clear this wasn’t the case, we worked with the Ministry of Health on an environmental assessment and were able to get essential larvicide and residual insecticides up there (to Tonga) on Sunday 18 February.” 

Those supplies were in use by 19 February and will provide ongoing treatment for the next month to up to 2,000 water tanks, as well as giving long lasting mosquito-killing protection in areas such as hospitals, clinics, welfare centres, churches and schools. This will be essential to avoid another large outbreak of dengue fever in Tonga, in the wake of the devastation caused by Tropical Cyclone Gita last week. 

The Ministry's Emergency Management Team is now supporting Civil Defence Emergency Management and the sector response to the impact of cyclone Gita after it made landfall over New Zealand this week. 

Travellers heading to Tonga and other Pacific islands should take precautions to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes by covering up with clothing and wearing an effective repellent. Read more about avoiding bug bites while travelling

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