Rural Health Visitation Project in Vanuatu

Churches of Christ Medical Santo recently took part in a project with the overall aim of improving resistance to and the awareness of key disease amongst the populations in rural Espiritu Santo. Here, Medical Santo’s Brooklyn Folland details a recent visit to the community at Turtle Bay.

On Thursday 23 June we joined with two nurses from the Department of Rural Health to run an awareness and screening workshop with the community at Turtle Bay.

Edna specialises as the tuberculosis and leprosy rural nurse, and Dominique as the non-communicable diseases nurse for the province of Sanma (Espiritu Santo).

Non-communicable diseases have become a serious problem in the new urban areas of Vanuatu, such as Luganville, due to the adoption of cheap nutrient-devoid western packaged foods—white rice, two-minute noodles, breakfast crackers, and white bread—which the locals are substituting for their local produce.

Our collaborative mission with the staff at Rural Health is to prevent the spread of these poor dietary habits into the rural communities and prevent the resulting burden of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, which are claiming many young lives because these diseases are progressing to advanced stages (many gangrene limbs for example are presenting to the hospital too late and must be amputated) due to the lack of health education.

Turtle Bay is an interesting community in that the people have come from the very small and remote island of Mere Lava in the north of the Vanuatu archipelago.  These families were forced to leave their island and settle on Santo so they could afford to make a living by working for the large coconut plantations.  They are now more exposed to urban lifestyles, and have no education or warning about the health consequences of adopting these ‘novelty’ foods.

The visit we made to their community involved a five-station screening process in the chief’s Nukamal (the meeting hut for elders), where we took measurements for BMI and waist circumference, blood pressure, fasting blood sugar, eye checks, and dietary habits. At the end of the line the patients were seen by one of Medical Santo’s volunteering doctors, who reviewed and further questioned the patient and provided medical advice, which is a rare advantage for many rural families.

The day was extremely successful; they saw 74 people in a space of four hours and provided awareness talks in Bislama for all those waiting in line.

The data collected supports not only Medical Santo’s mission to understand and meet the needs of the community, but is also sent directly to the Vanuatu Ministry of Health to provide the Government valuable data for their review, which is not usually readily available.

The doctors identified that for all those who stuck to their traditional diet (of taro, manioc, banana, coconut and some chicken and fish) the prevalence of diabetes was significantly lower than the rest of the population.  We encouraged this to continue and explained the nutritional value of whole foods compared to high-salt, ‘white’ products available in the stores.

We are most thankful and proud of our well developed relationship with the staff from the Department of Rural Health, as this strong supportive collaboration demonstrates to the community the acceptance and value of seeking western medical care in a changing culture.

The services provided by Churches of Christ Medical Santo receive no government funding, relying on donations from individuals and organisations to deliver this vital health care.

You can support Medical Santo in providing health care to thousands of Northern Vanuatu people by making a donation today.

Go to or phone 1800 600 900 or email today.


Posted July 28, 2016 in Our blog