8 Mar 2023

Pacific medical team reaching out to cyclone-hit workers in rural NZ

10:38 am on 8 March 2023
Pasifika Medical Association CEO Debbie Sorensen (centre) with the Pasifika Medical Assistance Team in Hawke's Bay.

Pasifika Medical Association CEO Debbie Sorensen (centre) with the Pasifika Medical Assistance Team in Hawke's Bay. Photo: Pasifika Medical Association Group

The Pasifika Medical Association has sent a medical assistance team to provide primary care and mental health assistance in the cyclone-hit New Zealand town of Wairoa after an assessment last week.

The team will work closely with local health providers to provide medical and mental health support for forestry and freezing works workers.

The chief executive of the PMA Debbie Sorensen said the deployment will reach Pacific workers in rural areas of Hawke's Bay.

She said there are a number of Fijian forestry and freezing works employees who are based in the Wairoa district and were impacted by Cyclone Gabrielle.

Sorensen said the scoping team were able to assess the immediate needs on the ground, and based on this assessment, the association has this week deployed a multi-lingual team to respond and provide essential support.

Skin infections and respiratory issues, as well as stress and anxiety, continue to be presented in the aftermath of the cyclone.

Cyclone Gabrielle left hundreds of RSE workers throughout Hawke's Bay homeless, resorting to take shelter in various church halls and community centres.

New Zealand's Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment reported that all RSE workers are safe and accounted for.

Since last week, the PMA has been on the ground in Hawke's Bay responding to the urgent health needs for over 500 RSE workers.

The floods have left a lot of workers with skin infections and respiratory issues.

Debbie Sorensen said workers have also become anxious since the cyclone.

"Anxiety about their jobs, will they still have a job because it's not universal, you see," she said.

"So one orchard for example might be totally devastated and the one next door might be fine so a lot of initial anxiety about what happens now."

Church leader Charles Faletutulu said although the cyclone is gone, it has left the community more "on edge".

Charles Faletutulu

Charles Faletutulu Photo: Ministry for Pacific Peoples

"Napier is a different place now. I guess some people are unable to get back into their normal routine," he said.

"Even driving out to Hastings as you would for about 15 to 20 minutes - now it takes about an hour and a half or two hours just to get through."

"I guess now we live with that mindset that anytime we could just be wiped away."

Taylor Crichton from Samoa, who has been working in New Zealand for over a year, said when Cyclone Gabrielle hit, he and his colleagues tried to grab as much as they could and fled.

"The last couple of days ago since the cyclone was happened, I was feeling uncertain. I was thinking of the next step, for most of the boys here but right now, we're doing good."

Sorensen said that resilience is ingrained in Pacific people.

"Even in these desperate times that seem quite dark some days over the last couple of weeks, we know that we'll prevail and we'll prevail because we have strong faith," she said.

"We have navigated our ways, our forefathers navigated across big oceans into the unknown and made a better life for ourselves."

Taylor Chricton (left) with church volunteer Fuimaono Pulega.

Taylor Chricton (left) with church volunteer Fuimaono Pulega. Photo: Anusha Bradley

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