Ensuring that vaccinations reach the last mile

By Sadie Cokanasiga – MSP Communications Officer
If there is one thing that has spread faster than the coronavirus during the pandemic, it has been the recognition and dedication of our healthcare workers.
Here at the Medical Services Pacific (MSP), healthcare is our daily bread and butter, it’s what we do best and as such we often forget the many sacrifices that our staff make every day since this virus hit our shores. Almost all our staff and volunteers continue to support the Ministry of Health & Medical Services – Fiji (MOH) and this has cost them time with their families, increased workload and working hours and above all, there is also the constant possibility that they could also fall sick while carrying out their duties.
We hope that by profiling some of our staff, that we can share with Fiji the realities and sacrifices that our health care workers make to keep Fijians safe.
Meet 53-year-old Nurse Practitioner Amelia Nairabelevu Batitoa. Amelia has over 24 years of experience in nursing and her specialty areas are maternal health, sexual reproductive health, breast and cervical cancer screening and general medical consulting.  Amelia was stationed at Namuamua health centre, Namosi. She is usually based at our clinic at Waimanu Road, Suva however since April, when COVID-19 positive cases began to rise, the Fijian Government imposed containment zones that prevented Amelia from coming to the clinic as she lives in Deuba – a 45-minute drive from Suva (Fiji’s capital). Instead of staying at home, Amelia offered her expertise to the Navua Hospital where she had been supporting the vaccinations teams.
Under this secondment, Amelia travelled to some of the most remote and hardest to reach places in the Namosi highlands and outer islands like Beqa to help vaccinate Fijians.
On occasion, medical teams wore gumboots and heavy raincoats while carrying equipment by foot, walking long distances, crossing small streams, and during unfavourable weather to deliver health services. Sometimes with prior arrangement and dependent on connectivity, the MOH was able to liaise with communities for support with horses to transport the medical equipment.
Her daily schedule working with the vaccinations team was quite tiring. To travel to many of these remote locations required her to wake up very early in the morning to travel and this meant that she often returned home really late at night when her family hadd already gone to bed. She says that she sacrificed quality time with her family in order to ensure that she performed to her best level of work during this pandemic.
Her appreciation and interest for medicine stemmed from her growing up in a rural-based community herself, so she understands the difficulties that medical teams have in trying to reach and provide health services to everyone in Fiji.
“Seeing the great lengths that medical teams take to reach these communities really touched me growing up and this motivated me to pursue a career in medicine.  I always think of my work as a blessing or an opportunity to serve others and it’s a person’s right to receive quality health care,” she says.
Amelia says that every single patient that she has helped has had some impact on her life. She shared one of the standout moments in her career was witnessing a father travel on horseback to bring his baby to receive her immunization.
While in Namosi for COVID-19 registrations and vaccinations, Amelia also met breastfeeding mothers. She used the opportunity to also check on their babies’ immunizations records. She discovered that a few mothers in the community had missed out on very important immunizations for their babies due to their remoteness. She was determined to return to this community to ensure that the babies received their immunizations and that she could bring back family planning services for women in the community.
Since all MOH transport was being used for the vaccination campaigns, Amelia was able to secure the support of the Ministry of Forestry to transport the medical team to revisit this community.
“It’s moments like these that keep me going. I am so grateful for the understanding and support of my family who understands how important my work is. I would like to acknowledge MOH and MSP for the initiative in reaching out to the needy and allowing me to give back to the community’’.
Amelia also encourages Fijians to follow COVID- safe protocols and to get vaccinated to keep their families safe.
The Fiji Women’s Fund is a core funder of MSP and is proud to continue to support frontline workers like Amelia through funding from the Australian Government.