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The Real Call of the South Pacific

Sea Mercy's Floating Health Care Clinic Answers A Call For Help In The South Pacific

Fiji, Vanuatu, Tahiti, Palau, Tonga, Samoa… Just hearing the names of those islands conjures up travel brochure images; warm tropical sun setting in the distance over blue turquoise waters, palm trees leaning towards the ocean, luxurious air conditioned hotels and honeymoon getaways nestled on secluded, white sandy beaches beckons you from afar. As real and appealing as those images may be, there is another calling in the South Pacific that few know about, and fewer still allow themselves to hear. It is a call that pleads with us to respond with the same intensity and clarity. It's an urgent call for medical help.

A Tongan mother holds her young son in her arms in the shade of a palm tree, rocking back and forth as she looks out over the turquoise blue waters and white sand beaches of the South Pacific Island, a place where she and countless ancestors have always lived. In spite of the incredible beauty displayed before her, the cool breeze blowing off the ocean is not enough to cool her son's ever growing fever, nor is it able to drown out his soft moans. She is familiar with this moment and has seen it played out countless times before with other families also living on this remote island. Her son is dying and there is no emergency helicopter or ambulance to call, for they have no phones or electricity, and there is no supply ships scheduled to visit for at least another month. She looks at the swollen arm and the small cut that had gradually turned into a deadly infection, one that she knew was easily enough to cure with the proper medicine, but not here. Her island home is hundreds of miles away from the main island Hospital of Tongatupu, thirty miles away from the nearest remote Health Centre. She knows that putting other family member's lives at risk to cross open seas in a small motorboat is not an option. She looks one more time across the blue waters, hoping to see mercy coming on the horizon.

Whether it is an infection, respiratory illness, or any of a hundred small illnesses that can turn deadly without proper care, the above life story is played out thousands of times unnecessarily on the remote islands of the South Pacific. But this time she will know that "Sea Mercy" is coming on the horizon.

In the South Pacific, there are no roads, power lines, or phone systems to connect the smaller, less populated, islands to the same services offered on the more populated, primary islands. Sadly, these remote islands are left without even the most basic of health care services.

Having sailed in the South Pacific, Richard and Stephanie Hackett witnessed both the incredible beauty and hardships faced by those living on the remote islands. Seeing the need, they began reaching out to the island nations to learn more about the health care initiatives they had for their remote island citizens. "That was when we learned the reality of the situation for the remote citizens," said Richard Hackett, Founder of Sea Mercy. "Although the islands nations were striving to build a modern health care infrastructure on their larger, more populated primary islands, there was no service delivery mechanism in place, or funds available to try and connect their remote islands to even the most basic of health care services. That is when we decided to find a solution."

Working directly with the island nation's health ministry leaders, in 2012, Mr. Hackett and his wife launched a non-profit 501(c)3 organization named Sea Mercy (www.seamercy.org), a Floating Health Care Clinic (FHCC) staffed by US-based health care volunteers to answer the South Pacific's call for help. The FHCC is a modified sailing catamaran that carries doctors, dentists, optometrist, nurses, dental assistants, and pharmacy technicians and the necessary supplies to these remote islands in order to deliver the care, medicines and services needed. "We selected the sailing catamaran as the delivery platform for the FHCC." Hackett explained, "It provides the best fuel efficiency, a shallow draft that allows us access to almost any lagoon or shallow harbor, and a more stable and spacious platform for treating patients than traditional wind or engine powered mono-hull designs."

The FHCC will focus on fulfilling the following health care needs:

  • Preventive - Providing immunizations, examinations, and evaluations.
  • Curative - Providing treatments, minor surgeries, and limited pharmaceutical care.
  • Promotional - Health education and training of local citizens on better health practices and there by reduce health care needs.
  • Rehabilitative - Helping islanders return to a productive life through corrective treatment of physical ailments and impairments.

Sea Mercy is also an educational training ground for our island nation partner's local health care interns (doctors, dentists, nurses, etc.). These interns work with the onboard, Sea Mercy doctors and staff. They are essential to the program, as they will provide a vital link to the remote island communities, acting as interpreters and cultural liaisons for the Sea Mercy staff, assisting them in the education and training of the local populations in health care practices.

The Kingdom of Tonga, located approximately 500 miles east of Fiji, will be the first island nation to receive a Sea Mercy FHCC. Tonga has over 176 islands spread across 270,000 square miles of ocean, 160 of those islands are located 100 to 500 miles north of the primary island of Tongatapu where the primary hospital and the majority of their health care staff are located. "Tonga is a good example of our more remote islands being neglected with more focus of donor aid on the main referral hospitals." Said Dr. Latu Tekiteki, Medical Officer in Charge of Community Health Services, Ministry of Health in Tonga. "Also with the small populations on each island, it is not feasible to put medical officers there… One island caters for a scattering of smaller islands who have to take the boat to the closest Health Centre, from there it is usually 3-5 hours away from the secondary Hospital in that island group depending on weather and if there is even a boat available to take them there."

The great distance between the primary island group in the south and the remote island groups in the north creates an incredibly challenging situation for medical personnel to deliver primary health care services to the remote islands and equally challenging for those whom live there to receive treatment in times of emergency. Based in Tongatapu, Sea Mercy's FHCC and volunteer staff will make regular visits to Tonga's remote island citizens, "standing in the gap" as long as needed, or as long as there is available support for the Sea Mercy operations. The South Pacific is calling and Sea Mercy is asking for your help in answering.

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