In the early hours of the 29th September 2009, an earthquake in the Pacific generated a tsunami that caused significant destruction and loss of lives across Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga.
After the tsunami, the Samoan government requested medical assistance. Over 800 health sector staff volunteered to deploy from New Zealand, and these offers had to be manually managed and sifted for the skill sets required.
When the medical response was reviewed, the need for a New Zealand Medical Assistance Team (NZMAT) became clear. This was further emphasised after the Christchurch earthquake in February 2011.
An NZMAT is a self-sufficient team of medical and allied staff who:
- have been selected, trained and equipped to respond in an emergency
- can deploy at short notice to respond to incidents within New Zealand and the south-west Pacific.
Volunteers are registered on a database before an emergency, which means that teams can be selected and deployed promptly, and that training opportunities are available for volunteers.
Counties Manukau Health (formally Counties Manukau DHB) has been contracted to support the development of an NZMAT capability and the Pasifika Medical Association has been contracted to provide medical intelligence relating to south-west Pacific islands.
NZMAT has six main functions.
- If required and when possible, deploy an initial small assessment team consisting of a team leader and public health, clinical and logistics experts to report back on requirements for health assistance.
- On request of the relevant authorities, to deploy a modular health response to support health services in an area overwhelmed by disaster within New Zealand or the south-west Pacific (providing there is sufficient infrastructure to accommodate and support the work of the team). Modules may include wound care, primary care, secondary care, public health and/or psychosocial support services as required by the disaster affected area.
- Provide back-up/surge support for trauma and surgical services in the affected locality when these are overwhelmed by a disaster (providing there is a health and accommodation infrastructure to support delivery of such services).
- Work closely with other regional response agencies and authorities to ensure there is joined-up response and that an additional burden for support is not placed on the affected area by the NZMAT deployment.
- Ensure NZMAT is led by personnel trained and experienced in health disaster responses.
- Develop and maintain a self-sufficient NZMAT capable of deploying into an austere environment to deliver community-based services.