The Australian Medical Assistance Team, or AUSMAT, is an emergency disaster response team that deploys overseas to provide emergency humanitarian support during major disasters. They never imagined that their longest deployment would be on their national soil.
- AUSMAT specialists work with local healthcare providers to deliver vaccines to isolated and vulnerable communities
- They usually provide life-saving medical care in the aftermath of major disasters
- Specialized staff are recruited across Australia to be deployed on short notice
Since 2019, AUSMAT has seen an increasing number of deployments to Australia in response to disasters, such as the devastating bushfires of 2019, and more recently as an emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Emergency nurse practitioner Angela Jackson has been on the front lines of many international AUSMAT rescue missions, but this deployment, while closer to home, is shaping up to be a much bigger challenge.
Angie and her team have been tasked with providing COVID-19 vaccination support to isolated communities that are home to many isolated, vulnerable and indigenous Australians.
Regional local health services in the far west region of New South Wales have faced the monumental task of covering this vast, remote area to deliver vaccines with resources already stretched before the pandemic.
“My main task was to try to focus on vulnerable communities and hard-to-reach communities,” Ms. Jackson said.
Providing emergency medical support in these remote and sometimes foreign places had its challenges.
Ms Jackson said language barriers were always the first hurdle and communities were not prepared for a group of foreigners arriving in town with full PPE.
Deployed on the floor of the house
Patricia Algate is the Health Services Manager at Dareton Primary Health Service, based in the far southwest of NSW.
She said local health workers welcomed the announcement of help with the immunization program and the opportunity to work with AUSMAT.
“Our services seized the opportunity to provide vaccines throughout the county to everyone, including vulnerable people, and to learn from their expertise,” Ms. Algate said.
The immunization program required a combined effort from a number of local service providers, including Wentworth and Broken Hill District Hospitals, the Local Aboriginal Lands Council and Wentworth County, who provided immunization staff, found sites and provided materials.
Protect isolated communities
The vaccine rollout in the indigenous community of Namatjira was carried out door to door with a friendly face from the local health care team and an AUSMAT practitioner.
Ms Algate said the AUSMAT team, who were extremely engaging and culturally sensitive, answered residents’ questions to dispel myths or anxiety and enable them to make informed decisions about their vaccination.
Uptake of the immunization program by the community has been excellent, with families grateful for the opportunity to ask questions and to have the immunization safe in their homes.
“The majority of vaccines were delivered to homes, often starting with one or two people, and then the rest of the household would follow,” Ms. Algate said.
At the end of the busy three-day mission, more than 700 vaccines had been administered to the community of Dareton before the AUSMAT team traveled to Balranald.
The team plans to return next month to administer the second doses as part of the massive vaccine rollout effort.
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