The response to Tropical Cyclone Yasa: Through the eyes of a humanitarian surge member

Sera speaking with a 45-year-old father of seven

Sera Vulavou is the Senior Monitoring and Evaluation Officer with IPPF’s Sub-Regional Office for the Pacific. She was trained as a humanitarian surge roster member in early 2020, to be able to deploy to emergencies to provide technical assistance to Member Associations  here she shares her experience with us.

She is pictured left, with a 45-year-old father of seven who was seeking services to help enable him and his wife to space out pregnancies. 

Severe Tropical Cyclone (TC) Yasa was the strongest in the South Pacific since TC Winston in 2016, as well as the fourth most intense TC on record in the basin. 

The Reproductive and Family Health Association of Fiji (RFHAF) humanitarian response to TC Yasa has reached some of the most difficult and geographically scattered islands and communities, which included the islands of Moala, Totoya, and Matuku. 

Sera in the back of a truck
Sera's means of transport while delivering sexual and reproductive health services to some of the most hard to reach villages

Being part of the IPPF humanitarian surge roster team gave me the opportunity to accompany the RFHAF response team during their humanitarian work. This experience was about putting in action what I could only personally describe as being at the right place at the right time. 

When we talk about sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services in emergencies, it does not really get to you until you see the reality on the ground, when people and communities come in their numbers, and gather to access these life-saving services. That is when you truly do recognize and appreciate the work that a humanitarian response brings to people who would have not been able to access this service even during normal times. 

One of the signs of great feedback is that while we responded in remote communities in Moala, we ran out of the Jadelle contraceptive implant in the first week! We had packed contraceptive items according to women of reproductive age for the response however, we did not foresee that women in the communities would prefer Jadelle. We reached 6 villages in Moala, and at every village we conducted 6 to 7 insertions of this implant.

Before embarking on to the next few islands, we had to request additional contraceptive items to cater for the needs of women, which for us was an indication of the need as well as the effectiveness of the SRH awareness conducted in the communities. During this response we were also informed that the local hospitals had a lack of or no contraceptive commodities and other items available to cater to the needs of these women. This is also taking into account the geographical layout, distance and how costly it is for these women to reach the hospital to access SRH services. 

A MISP awareness session run by Sera
A SRH awareness session run by Sera

The response in the communities was quite timely and much needed. The local doctor at the main hospital in this outer island was both thankful and relieved that the response enabled these women to have access to SRH contraceptive services. 

As part of the surge roster team, this experience has enabled me to understand in depth the importance of the work that humanitarian response brings to the lives of people. It is times like this that we certainly do appreciate that life-saving services offered during responses makes all the differences to the people we serve.