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Cloudbreak: Fijian nursing students master community health wave

June 11, 2005 -- A short unsigned piece posted on the Fiji Times Online today reported that a group of local nursing students had improved the health of a small village in the South Pacific island nation by initiating improvements in the village water and waste disposal systems. The story is an interesting look at a community health nursing intervention in a surfing resort setting where the developed and developing worlds seem to meet.

The piece, "Nurses leave mark on village," reports that a group of six Fijian nursing students recently had a 10-week "attachment" to Momi Village (pop. 311) as part of their clinical training. After arriving at the village, the students collected key health-related data, and determined that the village did not have proper water supply, drainage, or rubbish disposal systems. Team leader Uraia Ratu is quoted as saying that the team was "amazed to find they used boreholes and water from a nearby creek for consumption, bathing, defaecating and rubbish disposal. The use of contaminated water leads to a lot of skin disorder and cases of diarrhoea...They had two fatal cases last year." Ratu explained that the team set its findings before the villagers and asked them to be part of the solution. The village built a rubbish pit and an incinerator, but the most striking change had to do with the water supply. Ratu is quoted as follows: "With the help of the village elders we managed to liaise with a 5-star hotel being built at Momi for water to be supplied to the village." Apparently this resort is the nearby Tavarua Island Resort, since the piece then notes that villagers were "grateful" to that hotel, though it's possible the piece is also referring to a second hotel, since Momi is not actually on Tavarua, and the Tavarua resort appears to be complete. (Tavarua is a tiny island that features Cloudbreak, a legendary "perfect wave" for surfers and host to high-level professional competitions.) Village herald Kitione Moqili reportedly thanked the nursing students, noting that they had brought "a healthier lifestyle."

The article appears to present an impressive community health nursing intervention. By looking at the big picture, the nursing students addressed root causes of some of the villagers' most serious health problems, rather than merely treating isolated cases. That the Tavarua Island Resort apparently agreed to help may represent more than simple altruism, to the extent the Resort relies on the goodwill of socially aware guests--and the health of local workers. In fact, the Resort stresses on its web site that it tries to blend harmoniously with Fijian culture, and that it is "one of the only such establishments in its area that generously gives aid to the surrounding villages in which it operates. This aid includes various infrastructure projects, scholarship programs and medical education and assistance." (A recent surfing event web posting--which was itself about surfing great Kelly Slater and others "giving back" to Momi Village--suggests that most of the Tavarua's staff are indeed natives of the village.) No doubt the nursing students were well aware of these dynamics. Of course, we can't claim to know the overall environmental impact of the changes described, and we could quibble with the piece's persistent references to the students as "nurses," and with the fact that we learn the name of the Resort, but not the nurses' school. But we'd rather salute the initiative, ingenuity and holistic approach of the nursing students, and the Fiji Times for telling their story.

See the article "Nurses leave mark on village," from the June 11, 2005 edition of the Fiji Times.

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