My name is Janelle and I am a nurse who works with a non-profit organization, called Marine Reach Ministries. We are a medical ship that sails to the Pacific Islands to deliver free medical care to people who otherwise will have little or no access.
One of our major needs in primary health care is respiratory management. Many people grow up breathing in the smoke from fires within their bush kitchens and a few islands have active volcanoes, both of which we have found contributes to frequent lung infections and chronic conditions, such as asthma.
Being a nurse and serving with the ship for four weeks last year, and actually living in Vanuatu for 10 months at our permanent health clinic, I can personally testify to the impact respiratory education has.
I can tell you one story of a time when I was down on Tanna (an island about an hour's flight/6 hour sail) from the capital of Port Vila. We were out in the bush and I was the only medical professional on the team of nine. My friend and I decided to do some house visits so I loaded up my island basket with medications and basic supplies and we started walking around visiting the sick. It was about a 10 min walk through thick bush to get to each different house.
One stop we made was at a house with a woman and her sister, Martha. Aside from living in an isolated village with no running water or electricity, Martha had three children and an abusive husband. One of the reasons her husband kept abusing her was because she was unable to work hard. Martha had been sick for a long time, complaining of being chronically tired and unable to breathe. She also had a persistent cough and always seemed to be short of breath. She was barely able to tolerate cooking over the fire, working in the garden, or walking the 20 minutes to fetch her family's water.
After listening to her lungs it was quite obvious that she had a mixture of an upper respiratory tract infection and a more chronic condition - probably asthma. I was able to give her a simple course of antibiotics, and then a combination of reliever and preventer inhaler (along with a spacer). It was so cool to teach her how to use her inhaler and watch her face over the next while as the Ventolin began working! I also got to educate her on lifestyle advice on how to manage her asthma and prevent attacks. I left her with a few inhalers and encouraged her to find ways to get ahold of more when they ran out.
I stayed in that village for two weeks and close to the end of my time she walked up to say thank you. Even just by looking at her you could see she had improved so much! Her colour, smile, and ease of breathing was astonishing. While many things about her life were still heartbreakingly hard... she had regained the ability to breath normally and told me she felt strong enough to simply live again.
In January 2017 the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ donated 20 spacers to be given out in Vanuatu. They will be used to educate those in the villages how to best administer their inhalers.
I am so thankful to the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation for donating 20 spacers. For even being able to give that one spacer to Martha made it worth it.
16 January, 2017
While on a 2.4km run near Coogee beach in Sydney a few years ago, professional rugby player Issac Luke came across a teammate having an asthma attack.