Cyclones, floods, tsunamis, earthquakes, or disease outbreaks: if disaster strikes, Solomon Islands Emergency Medical Teams (SOLMAT) will be ready to respond, providing lifesaving services to affected communities around the country.
More than 30 nurses, doctors, pharmacists, and provincial and national staff from the Ministry of Health and Medical Services, came together in Honiara in October for a major disaster simulation exercise. The training – the second for the SOLMAT program - was an opportunity for the Ministry to test its procedures, rapid assessment capabilities, and coordination with provincial and national health Emergency Operating Centres and the National Disaster Management Office.
Solomon Islands ranks 4th in the world for risk of emergencies, so having trained teams on the ground is vital. The country has experienced several major disasters in recent years, including the Gizo earthquake and tsunami in 2007, in which 21 people lost their lives; the Honiara flash flood in 2014 in which 2500 people were evacuated and 22 people died; and the 2016-2017 dengue outbreak - the largest and longest-running on record, with over 12,000 suspected cases, more than 800 hospitalisations and 16 deaths.
For the simulation, the SOLMAT teams were required to set up two clinics, treating and referring patients who presented with cyclone-related injuries and trauma as well as other non-emergency health services. Volunteers from Solomon Islands Planned Parenthood Association acted as affected community members, while St John’s Ambulance Services also helped out. The teams came through the simulation with flying colours and are ready for local deployment, according to Permanent Secretary for Health Mrs Pauline McNeil.
The Emergency Medical Team initiative is part of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Program. The Program aims firstly, to strengthen the national EMT system to be able to deploy clinical and public health teams – including from overseas - in cases of emergencies or outbreaks. The second objective is to develop Standard Operating Procedures and policies for the deployment of national teams, as well as for rapid assessment .In the longer term, Solomon Islands will work towards having a WHO- accredited Emergency Medical Team that can be deployed around the Pacific.
“Last year, with the support of WHO and the Australian and New Zealand governments, we ran our first EMT training. As a result, we had a pool of health emergency expertise on which we could draw for three events this year, including the Renbel oil spill. Last week’s training gave teams a chance to familiarise themselves with the new SOLMAT training manual, the activation procedures and the equipment they will be using. The next steps will be to hold annual trainings, especially for health workers in the provinces who are our first line responders in an emergency, and to seek accreditation from WHO so that our teams can help our Pacific neighbours in their times of need.” MHMS will fast track financial support to mobilise resources, removing a major obstacle to deploying teams around the country.
Solomon Islands is one of four Pacific island countries WHO is working with to establish and strengthen the national Emergency Medical Team system. “When disaster strikes, the faster the response, the better the outcome,” explains Dr Sevil Huseynova, WHO Representative in Solomon Islands. “That’s why having pre-trained teams on the ground is so important.”
WHO has also supported the MHMS in the drafting and finalising of the SOLMAT Manual and the procurement of Cache to be used during deployments. Dr Sevil Huseynova was on site to formally hand over the equipment to MHMS . “With the completion of this training, we now have teams of health professionals who are fully equipped to deploy when the situation calls for it within the country,” Dr Huseynova said. “We congratulate the Ministry of Health on this major milestone; we thank the health professionals who gave so generously of their time to the exercise, and the Australian Government and the New Zealand Government who have supported this initiative from the outset.”
Tanya St George
World Health Organization