Farewell to Erromango

Wednesday 27 May, 7:34pm (on the way to Port Vila)

After the sail around to Dillons Bay from Port Narvin and their night aboard, the medical team made their way ashore by ship’s dinghy around 8:00am this morning, complete with a full complement of boxes, to start their day’s work.

It was a busy (half) day with 223 people seen and a swag of glasses dispensed. The village is set in a beautiful environment with a river leading out to the sea, plus lush hills and gardens in all directions. About 20% of the patients were able to pay the small amount required for the glasses, with the others being subsidized by the program.

At the close of work tody the medical team has seen 1023 patients – not bad for 10 day’s work.

To give a perspective from the medical side of things, I’ve asked Hugo Huygens, a veteran of 7 volunteer tours and retired general surgeon (Central Gippsland Hospital, Sale) to share a few thoughts:

Vanuatu Prevention of Blindness Project

The Prevention of Blindness Program lends itself to doing screening for common diseases that are relatively easy to diagnose. The program visits many communities throughout the Vanuatu island chain, mostly small isolated villages.

It had been noted that there was an increase in the typical Western diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, particularly in those Nivans living in the urban communities such as Port Vila and Luganville.

Consequently it was decided to “piggyback” a screening program to measure blood pressure and random blood sugars of all people presenting for eye refraction. This part of the program was first introduced in 2002.

Those patients diagnosed with either hypertension or diabetes would be counselled and treatment arranged through the local Health Care Centre. These centres are run by qualified nurses, some with further experience or qualifications. These personnel can then institute management usually following the suggestion offered by the medical practitioner in the Eye Care team. On occasion the patient may need referral to the larger medical centres where permanent medical staff are available. These centres are at Port Vila, Luganville and Lenakel. The cost of transport to these centres is often an issue and hence nearly all are treated by the local Health Care Practitioner.

What has been the findings and result of the program?

Anecdotally, the incidence of both diseases is low when compared with Australian society. However there are some worrying findings. People aged between 35 and 50 yrs are more likely to have hypertension and diabetes than those aged 60 to 75 yrs. This suggests that the trend to a more Western diet is evident in this younger age group. It requires an effective education program to reverse the trend and have Nivans eat their traditional diets high in green and coloured vegetables rather than rice and other grain products such as bread.

We have an educational component to our work which focuses on the trainee nurses and teachers who then pass on the good word. It is generally difficult to get Ni-vans to take their medication and then stay on it because they often think that having had one consultation and a course of medication is sufficient.

I have not encountered Type 1 diabetes, but any patient with this disease would need to go to the major centres, such as Pt Vila, as maintaining adequate control and hygiene in the village is impossible.

This is my seventh tour to Vanuatu and I suppose I got involved, initially because Don came and spoke at our Rotary Club, in Sale. I was between jobs at the time and was looking for something extra to do. I’ve kept coming back because I find the work satisfying and enjoyable, plus I really like the people.

Hugo Huygens


At the moment we are enroute to Pt Vila, having left Dillons Bay around 3:30 this afternoon. It’s around 8:30pm, we have another 50 miles to go and at our current speed we should be there around 7:00am tomorrow – at the start of a new day.

We had a lovely dinner prepared by Will and Kathy and now everyone is making their way to a bunk for a welcome rest, except those crew on watch, who will take their turn through the night.

So tomorrow is effectively the end of the first medical tour and the beginning of the re-fuel and fix-up stage for the boat. Not that there’s a lot to do, but we want to be prepared for the next tour which starts on 18 June in the central region of Vanuatu – Malakeula, Ambae and Santo. It will also be a time for a new crew to move aboard.

With a night watch ahead, I’m keen to get some sleep. At the moment the seas are calm, the wind is from behind, we have the mainsail out one side and the jib poled out the other, the moon has just gone down on the bow and the stars are bright in the sky above. It’s a beautiful thing.

Smooth seas, fair wind and Capital City here we come.


2 thoughts on “Farewell to Erromango”

  1. Ah, the serenity.
    Can you smell that serenity?

    Well done and congrats to Team No 1 & Chimere crew.
    Can Team No. 2 get to 1,024?

  2. Hi Graeme,

    they’re big on serenity … unless you’re in Port Vila … the traffic is something else!! More risk crossing the road than in the middle of the Tasman.

    I suspect medical team 2 will have no trouble matching the numbers down south.



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