A group of New Zealand medical professionals from the Pacific will be among the first medical teams to travel to Tonga after a series of devastating events in the country.
The eight-member Pasifika Medical Association team left Auckland on Wednesday to provide mental health support to Tongans still reeling from January’s volcanic eruption and tsunami and an outbreak of Omicron.
Tonga has only a few qualified psychologists on the island.
The tsunami, which was generated following the underwater eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano, killed three people.
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Meanwhile, the outbreak has grown to 6,000 cases and six confirmed deaths.
Veteran journalist Kalafi Moala, publisher and managing director of Taimi Media Network in Nuku’alofa, said the psychological trauma of the events in Tongans was far more extreme than the physical damage caused.
In a previous interview with ThingMoala said he saw a huge sense of grief and despair among people in the evacuation centres, who were now dealing with a Covid outbreak.
“I saw people staring at the wall, outside…they are grateful to be alive, it’s a very Tongan way. But when you talk to people, you see huge signs of trauma,” he said.
The Pasifika Medical Association team, all of whom are from Tonga, will work alongside the Women’s and Children’s Crisis Centre.
The team includes an infection control nurse to ensure Covid-19 protocols would be followed,
The association’s chief executive, Debbie Sorensen, said the team looked forward to serving the people of Tonga during such a stressful time.
“When our country calls us, we have to go,” Sorenson said.
She said the team would be in Tonga for five weeks to help provide support to families, young people and children who had been traumatized by recent events.
The team would also provide training in psychosocial mental health.
Having a culturally specific team was one of PMA’s greatest advantages in serving Pacific communities, Sorensen said.
“Being able to put together a team that speaks Tongan…a lot of them were born in Tonga and went to school there, so they already have networks.
“They understand how we are able to do the job, but also the context of mental health support for the Tongan community.”