Staff giving to support student action
Tanna Island is thought of by many as a relaxed island paradise. The villager’s faces glow with huge smiles. If you stop and ask for directions they will most likely walk you to your destination, no matter how far out of their way it is. They make their clothes of thatch and grow their own food and kava amidst the island’s lush, natural beauty.
Though Tanna’s might seem like an idyllic community, behind their smiles the villagers are greatly affected by the impacts of diseases such as Tuberculosis (TB), which linger amongst the population and kill many each year.
A group of UOW Graduate School of Medicine (GSM) students are hoping to improve the island’s healthcare through the Tanna Island Project, an initiative launched in 2010 after five students visited the island, assisting its only doctor with mass vaccinations, pre and postnatal care and education for local health workers.
The Tanna Island Project has now been added to the list of causes supported by the UOW Cares Staff Workplace Giving, a program which allows University staff to regularly donate to a community group with tax deductible gift recipient status (DGR) through automated payroll deductions.
Project Director and third year Bachelor of Medicine Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) student Benny Hill said the group were please to be supported by UOW Cares.
“This year, we’re sending a highly qualified team of medical students with diverse backgrounds of aid work to Tanna alongside Professor of Surgery Noel Tait, a doctor with years of medical experience working in the Pacific with the Australian Navy,” he said.
“TB is one of the world’s biggest killers, and a major health problem for the Tanna people. It usually affects the lungs and is easily spread in crowded housing with poor airflow. It spreads quickly among the immunosuppressed- the very young, the very old and especially the sick and malnourished.”
Benny said UOW Cares support would assist in breaking the chain of transmission and that any individual donations (all of which are tax-deductible), no matter how small, would help improve the lives of the islanders.
“$10 will buy us 10 TB testing kits, which we make ourselves. $100 will pay to retrieve a sick patient from the outskirts of the island and bring them to the nearest Directly Observed Treatment Short (DOTS) center to receive TB treatment. $1000 will cover the cost of running a TB detection school to educate local villagers on how to recognise the signs of TB and over $10,000 would allow us to start looking at upgrading the physical infrastructure at one of the TB clinics and setting up a World Health Organisation endorsed program to train village school children to become healthcare advocates in their communities,” he said.
“The student population can also help us out by supporting us whenever they see us on campus, even if its just coming by and chatting with us at a sausage sizzle. We’re also looking for volunteers to help us out with our fundraising events in the community.”
Benny said this year’s group was made up of a highly qualified medical students with a diverse background of aid work across a range of locations including Peru, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste and rural Australia.
He said the main goal for the volunteers when they return to Tanna in late June this year was to continue shifting responsibility for TB detection to the islanders and to remove any barriers preventing detection.
“We hope to be able to train them to spot TV in their own villages and to provide a transport service to treatment facilities year round. This year we’ll also be bringing portable ultrasound machines to the island which will help us fulfil our ethical duties to the islanders by enabling us to identify really sick patients who may need transport to the hospital,” he said.
“Portable ultra sound machines are about the size of an iPod and have a million and one uses. They are able to pick up anything from gall stones to an ectopic pregnancy, which is a medical emergency.”
The group achieved some impressive results during their last visit to the island in 2011, detecting six contagious cases of pulmonary TB across three villages on Tanna Island. All patients volunteered to enter treatment and are doing well.
The Ministry of Health in Vanuatu were so impressed by their efforts that the local TB team from Tanna were invited to spend last December in the capital Port Villa helping to re-write the national guidelines for TB detection and treatment.
Benny said he was pleased the GSM were willing to allow students to dictate the direction of the project and that the experience would be an unforgettable one for all those involved.
“A few more experienced students are coming over to mentor the first years who will hopefully stay with the project, take a bigger role next year and continue our relationship with Tanna,” he said.
“I think the project focus’ on the core of what medicine is really all about- being there for people when they need you most.”
If you would like to volunteer to assist with Tanna Island Project community fundraising activities please email Benny Hill on email@example.com for more information visit the project’s website or facebook. To find out more about UOW Cares visit the program’s webpage.
By: Jenna Bradwell.