Vanuatu: Tanna Island devastated by Tropical Cyclone Pam

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PORT VILA, 19 MARCH 2015 - It has been five days since Cyclone Pam unleashed her devastation on the south Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. While life is returning to normal in the capital, Port Vila, the true impact on outlying islands is only now becoming clear.

Yesterday, Mr George Worwor, the WHO-supported surveillance focal point in the Vanuatu Ministry of Health, returned from the ravaged island of Tanna, in the south of Vanuatu. Tanna, an island with a population of approximately 32 000, was one of the worst affected by the Category 5 cyclone’s wrath.

“Lenakel hospital (the provincial hospital on Tanna) is seriously damaged,” Mr Worwor said. “The hospital is functioning although at a severely diminished capacity. The maternity ward, the paediatric ward and surgical sections of the hospital are currently unusable. The hospital’s small stock room was flooded and the facility is running low on essential medicines,” Mr Worwor reported. The hospital lacks clean water and is running low on fuel.

“In the coming weeks and months, the health needs of the population of Tanna will be significant,” said Dr Jacob Kool, WHO Country Liaison Officer to Vanuatu. “We need to be aware that the risk of infectious disease outbreaks is elevated in post-disaster situations, particularly in settings with severely limited ability to respond and lack of available water.”

WHO is assisting the Ministry of Health to re-establish the surveillance system for early detection of infectious diseases outbreak and other public health threats in Tanna and other islands in Vanuatu—a system impaired by the cyclone. “Re-establishment of the early warning surveillance system to detect outbreak-prone diseases as early as possible is critically important,” Dr Kool said. “Identifying and responding to outbreaks as early as we can will minimize the impacts they have on the population and the already overstretched health system."

The WHO Country Liaison Office in Vanuatu is being supported by WHO’s Division of Pacific Technical Support in Fiji, the Regional Office for the Western Pacific in Manila and by WHO headquarters in Geneva to deploy public health teams to the cyclone-affected nation.

“This disaster is the biggest Vanuatu has ever experienced and recovery will likely take many months,” said WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Dr Shin Young-soo. “It is a long road ahead for the people of Vanuatu and WHO will be here supporting the Ministry of Health throughout.”

For further information, please contact: Mr Adam Craig Information and Communications Officer Telephone: +678 775 3234 Email:

Mr Ryan Baker Risk Communications Consultant, Division of Health Security and Emergencies Telephone: +632 528 9986 Email:

Mr Ruel E. Serrano Assistant, Public Information Office Telephone: +632 528 9993 Email: