The world’s leading medical specialist in natural disasters from Australia, and a local surgeon from Vanuatu challenge the global humanitarian community to do crisis-aid differently. If their experiment works, it could change the way the world responds to medical emergencies.
Australian Dr Ian Norton is part of the international aid community, but his methods can sometimes be unorthodox. He’s been on the frontline for two decades. From Ebola in West Africa to the war in Syria, Ian has been on the ground, leading the global response, and writing the official WHO guidebook, setting minimum international standards for such emergencies.
But Ian has had enough of failed bureaucracy. He knows that it’s old world thinking that you can arrive in someone else’s country and start leading a successful medical response.
Ian Norton turns to an old friend with a bold plan – why can’t a country such as Vanuatu train for, and lead their own responses to the inevitable fury of nature, which can strike the region at any time?
Doctor Basil Leodoro comes from a long line of medicos. He’s a third-generation doctor from Vanuatu, a tiny nation in the South Pacific.
Basil trained as a surgeon in Australia and is highly regarded throughout the Pacific. But he’s watched on as Pacific communities suffer through countless natural disasters where aid has arrived but often with less than ideal outcomes. International aid-givers fly-in and fly-out with little knowledge of local geography and services, and worse — treating Basil and his Pacific Island colleagues as second class practitioners.
HELP 1 is born. The concept is simple. Provide a platform from which local doctors and nurses can supply essential health care services, whilst training their teams to be the first responders to regional disasters. If it succeeds it could transform the way the world responds to medical emergencies.
Dr Norton and Dr Leodoro hatch a plan, with the help of Barbara Daufanamae, from the Solomon Islands. Barbara is one of the new generation of health care professionals from the Pacific. The daughter of a village nurse, Barbara has seen first-hand for years the failure of basic service delivery. She represents the new generation, unwilling to be part of the status quo.
Together, the three medicos launch a new social enterprise. Using the resources of some well-connected philanthropic donors, they secure a rusted reef ferry and begin the work of transforming the vessel into a mobile medical platform, capable of reaching the most remote villages and communities in the region.
Perhaps this is the turning point. The eradication of colonial attitudes. A platform that can deliver essential services whilst preparing for disasters ahead of time.
The international community could deploy in support of these local, well trained medical experts, rather than vice versa. Colonial attitudes to the developing world could be turned upside down.
In the wake of the pandemic even basic immunisation programs have failed to reach many islands and communities in the Pacific. Access to essential health services has been ravaged. Dr Leodoro remembers only too well the struggles of his grandfathers, both local doctors, who battled for many decades to deliver basic care.