“I have recently returned from two weeks working as a volunteer doctor in Sigatoka’s hospital and remote village nursing stations on the Coral Coast. Prior to my visit, Fiji always brought to mind images you might expect to find in a tourism brochure: beautiful beaches, colourful fish and coral, unique and fascinating cultures and customs, and smiling faces of Fijian people. However, these images, while accurately depicting the delights Fiji has to offer as the perfect Pacific getaway, they do not give any hint as to the challenges and difficulties that Fijian locals must face in their day to day life. Poverty and poor standards of health and hygiene are part of the ‘real’ Fiji that students and doctors will experience when volunteering in Fiji.
We were warmly welcomed by the community into their homes and churches, and participated in traditional ceremonies. The Fijian locals live a simple, meagre life and so we felt very privileged that they treated us to lunches and dinners of local food and included us in their traditional kava ceremonies.
Each day we worked in either remote villages doing health screenings and delivering basic medical care, or in the outpatient department in Sigatoka hospital helping the understaffed medical team cope with the demands of a very large patient load. As a junior doctor, I was very interested to see the extremes of complications from diabetes and hypertension and the devastating consequences of lack of access to basic medical care and pharmaceuticals such as antibiotics. The children too suffer from the effects of poverty, poor hygiene and untreated infection.
Over the years, Adrian and Suzy have built close and trusting relationships with the local people. Together, they have raised funds and awareness of the generally poor state of health of the Fijian people. This hard work has culminated in the redevelopment of a disused, neglected healthcare centre in Vatukarasa village, which provides important medical care to the communities that live in the area. It was exciting to see the health centre brimming with villagers waiting for health screening and to see the potential benefit that the centre will bring.
I am glad to have participated in this trip to the Coral Coast and to have had the opportunity to learn more about the Fijian culture and customs. The generosity, warmth and gratitude of the people I met is truly humbling and enriching, making the experience of volunteering in Fiji one I will gladly repeat.”
Dr Alana Kearsley