Tonga Medical Project

The Rotary Club of Whanganui North has a close association with Tonga, and in particular Vaiola Hospital, in Nuku’ alofa.

Club member and orthopaedic surgeon John van Dalen has been travelling to Tonga for the past six years to carry out surgery for Tongan patients. He visits three times a year for up to 10 days each trip.

Three years ago, the club raised NZ$90,000 to finance John’s trips and to purchase orthopaedic surgical equipment to the value of NZ$35,000, which was sorely needed at Vaiola Hospital.

John had a successful trip to Tonga in November 2023, when he carried out orthopaedic surgery on four children with good outcomes for them all. The project is in its final year and is proceeding well.

The club is now embarking on a new global grant to fund a new Tongan medical project. The grant is currently in draft status as the club’s fundraising continues worldwide.

The host club for the project is the Rotary Club of Nuku’alofa, Tonga, with the Rotary Club of Whanganui North as the international sponsor.

The project will be spread over three years, with stage one in 2024 being the upgrade/refurbishment of the existing operating theatres at Vaiola Hospital.

“We expect this upgrade to be undertaken by an Indian specialist engineering company with considerable experience in upgrading operating theatres in India,” said club member Tony Hodge. “In fact, they have been involved with 80 theatre upgrades.”

The upgrade will help minimise the risk of infection within the hospital, which is of concern because the current operating theatres are not up to best practice international standards, with inadequate air conditioning and filters.

The onset of infection when orthopaedic fixation is introduced can be devastating for a patient as fixation may need to be removed, thus compromising the surgical outcome.

Stage two of the project will be joint replacement surgery carried out at the two upgraded operating theatres in the years 2025-26 by New Zealand orthopaedic surgeons, including John, assisted by experienced orthopaedic theatre nurses from New Zealand.

This surgery cannot currently be undertaken in the existing operating theatres due to the risk of infection.

The club has prepared a brochure that provides an overview of the project, which has been costed at US$250,000, and has also built a website (www.tongahospitalprojects.com), which provides more detailed information. Sustainability and the training of Tongan medical staff are key priorities.

Fundraising for the project has started in New Zealand, but in view of the large budget the club is seeking financial support from Rotary clubs, districts and Charitable organisations throughout Australia, Asia, UK, US and Canada.

“Our project has strong support from the Medical Superintendent of Vaiola Hospital, Nuku’alofa, and The Ministry of Health, Tonga and will make a real difference to the lives of many Tongan people once fully implemented,” Tony said.

For more information on the project, visit www.rotarywhanganuinorth.nz or contact the club secretary via secretaryrotarynorth@gmail.com

MAIN PICTURE: The proposed new operating theatre at Vaiola Hospital will have clean air ventilation, stainless steel walls and anti-static floors.