Young doctor finds his feet – at sea and on land

27 October 2017

As Chimere continues her return voyage from Vanuatu to Australia we hear from Dr Jeremy Duke … yes, son of the famed, 9-time Vanuatu volunteer, Dr Graeme Duke  … but carving his own path on Mission 4 of the recently completed MSM Vanuatu 2017 mission.   In his own words, Jeremy looks back on his 2 weeks away with new insights …

Come sail with me… a brief reflection from the ship’s junior doctor: 

Feeling a bit seasick? Just down a glass of seawater, said my Vanuatu taxi driver.

Well, I can’t say I came across medical evidence for that one when researching what tablets I was going to bring along. That might not be your preferred method of curing sea-sickness either, so come with me on a brief journey through the Penama and Banks group of islands in Vanuatu’s north, a splattering of odd shaped islands covered in dense green foliage.

Apart from an occasional smoke plume rising into the blue sky, the Ni-Vanuatu (Ni-Van) people are mostly hidden amongst the banyan, coconut, banana and mango trees. That is, until you sail close enough to a village to attract the attention of local children, who upon seeing you anchor will jump in the water to greet their visitors with wide smiles and hand-shakes!

Dr Jeremy Duke and Dr Graeme Duke set up their medical practice for a day’s work in the village … next …
 

Over the 16 days of MSM Mission Four, we ran 7 clinics across 6 islands. While the main aim of the mission was to complete a National Oral Health Survey of the Ni-Van people, we also provided dental, optometry and medical care. 

Now young lady … what can I help you with today …?
 

The majority of our medical care revolved around key non-communicable diseases: hypertension, diabetes, obesity. 

High blood pressure is common – partly due to eating large amounts of salt, and cooking with sea water. How about blood sugar? If it’s higher than 30 in Australia, you’d be onto medications right away – and maybe even score a hospital admission. In Vanuatu, the access to medications by locals is difficult – impacted by cost, varying distance to your local dispensary, and health literacy.

Jeremy Duke and Matt Latimer strike a poignant pose as Chimere sets sail from Luganville on her final medical mission for 2017 with 15 people on board

So what difference can we actually make? Those times when you make a visible difference to someone are extremely valuable, and I’m grateful for our timing, such as …

 

  • … treating bronchitis in a heavily pregnant woman so she can breathe without difficulty
  • … bringing back an asthmatic from a coma
  • … draining an abscess on a 3 year old’s thigh.

 

Is that an insect in that 6-year old’s ear? Only one way to find out… 

But what about when we’re not there? The nurses and midwives who station the hospitals and clinics throughout these islands do a formidable job. There are few, mostly no doctors in these regions, and they are both the front-line and the rear guard, when it comes to diagnosis, treatment and ongoing care.. 

Thankfully, developments of the most valuable kind are underway! I was amazed to see how the baton of dental and optometry work is being passed onto capable Ni-Vans.  Five of our 15-strong team for our mission were Ni-Vans, local people. Although the numbers are small, Ni-Vans are being trained as doctors. The island nation only has enough to staff its central hospitals. We all look forward to the day when we can take Ni-Van doctors out to provide the healthcare themselves!  Providing healthcare in remote parts of Vanuatu was rewarding and fun, but our eyes must look forward – over the white-topped waves, around the network of banyan tree roots, through the cloud peaking the deep green mountain, to a sustainable and truly Ni-Vanuatu health service! 

Thanks for your prayers and support for our mission 🙂 

Jeremy

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