For women in the Pacific, the COVID-19 pandemic has come at a greater cost.
As Fiji battled its second wave of COVID-19 from May through to August, 2021, expecting mothers grew increasingly concerned for their safety and the risks around entering hospital in labour. During this time, seven out of 10 pregnant women at Suva’s Colonial War Memorial Hospital were testing positive for COVID-19, and sadly two mothers died.
In late June 2021, the Australian Government deployed an AUSMAT to Suva in Fiji following a request from the Fijian Government. The focus was to support hospital staff and the Ministry of Health managing the increase in COVID-19 patients, and delivering education courses to upskill frontline workers in infection prevention control.
For AUSMAT Midwife and Northern Territory Remote Nurse, Marlene Ball, her attention was on soon-to-be mothers and supporting staff in the maternity wards.
“The maternity wards in the hospitals are so well set up, in Lautoka they had birthing suites for COVID-19 positive mums and suites separately for those testing negative, it was really well organised… we just needed the pregnant women to know they were in safe hands,” she said.
"The midwives did an amazing job, encouraging all the new mums to get their vaccinations while in the hospital, they were really instrumental and I am humbled to have worked alongside them.”
As part of the mission in Fiji, AUSMAT Outreach Teams worked alongside nine regional health clinics and district hospitals in Suva, Sigatoka and Lautoka to provide upskilling courses in personal protective equipment use, primary assessment and delivery of oxygen therapy, management of critically unwell patients and providing COVID safe patient care.
As a result of AUSMAT’s response, Marlene believes frontline workers were reassured.
“I felt overall since AUSMAT arrived, healthcare workers and patients were feeling safer all round,” she said.
“When I first arrived in Suva, I was working with the Outreach Team visiting health clinics and hospitals, and the staff at each location were so eager to learn and so appreciative AUSMAT were there.”
While working within the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Marlene explained she had the opportunity to foster beautiful relationships with the mothers, and says she witnessed incredible strength and resilience from everyone she met on deployment in Fiji.
“While I was supporting the anti-natal wards, I would pop my head in to visit new mums, they were so excited to show off their new bubs!”
“It was really wonderful working with all of the mothers, even the mums who tested positive to the virus who were so resilient –they knew we were there to look after them.”
NCCTRC and AUSMAT have continued to support and assist local hospitals and health centres through a strategic advisory team, regional engagement and remote support as the country prepared to open to international tourism.