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New Zealand Medical Assistance Team deployment to Fiji

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New Zealand medical and surgical teams will depart for Fiji over the next two days to provide assistance in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Winston.

This follows the deployment by the Ministry of Health of an Initial Assessment Team of four personnel, which has been evaluating the situation in Fiji and considering how New Zealand can best support health needs there.

The Ministry of Health’s Acting Director of Public Health, Dr Stewart Jessamine says “Thirteen personnel from the Ministry-led New Zealand Medical Assistance Team (NZMAT) have left for Fiji on Defence Force flights today and a further five will leave tomorrow.

“They make up two surgical and two medical teams, which include nurses, surgeons, anaesthetists, emergency medicine specialists and a health planner.

“The number of personnel and the clinical skills of the NZMAT group we will be deploying makes this the largest and most complex health support programme that New Zealand has provided in response to an emergency in the Pacific Islands.”

The surgical teams will provide support to the Colonial War Memorial Hospital in Suva.

One medical team will be based on the HMNZS Canterbury and will be working in the Northern Lau Group of islands, while the second will be based on Koro Island. The role of both medical teams is to provide outreach primary and public health care to the residents of these islands where a number of health facilities and homes have been severely damaged or destroyed by Cyclone Winston.

“As time passes after natural disasters such as cyclones, the risk of communicable diseases increases due to damage to water treatment and sanitation infrastructure,” says Dr Jessamine.

“Illnesses such as diarrhoea and mosquito borne infections may also increase and a major focus of the NZMAT and other New Zealand resources is dedicated to preventing these illnesses occurring or increasing.

“While Zika virus is not known to be circulating in Fiji, dengue and chikungunya virus which are also transmitted by the Aedes species of mosquito have recently been reported in Fiji.

“All NZMAT teams will be following standard precautions against being bitten by mosquitoes by following the advice the Ministry of Health publishes on its website.”

It’s intended that these teams be initially deployed for up to two weeks.