Many Pacific Island Countries (PICs) are at risk and have experienced devastating natural and health disasters in recent years, which have greatly impacted their people and health systems.
To empower national and regional emergency response teams across the Pacific to respond more effectively to local disasters, and to support regular outreach of health and other services to remote communities, Respond Global founded the HELPR Program – Health Emergency Logistics Preparedness and Response.
The program was established in recognition that many Pacific countries have developed response teams, and undoubtedly have the skills, language, and cultural awareness to be best placed as first responders, but often lack the operations and logistics support. The HELPR program aims to build that support platform, to better allow a national and regional response.
Providing both land and sea-based capabilities, HELPR-1 is a unique health response and logistics response vessel and is the first such capability within the HELPR Program. While its design enables emergency response, its true value lies in its day-to-day support of full-time outreach programs, including health, education, climate change, and resource and disaster management preparation. Based in Vanuatu, HELPR-1 provides a safe logistics, operations, and accommodation base for use by national response teams, with support from Respond Global, other response agencies, and teams as required. The vessel is capable of transporting and supplying medical and other emergency response equipment, personnel, and training wherever needed in Pacific Island Countries, from PNG to Samoa, and beyond.
HELPR-1 continues to work day to day in Vanuatu to deliver an integrated health program and other essential services to provincial authorities. These additional services focus on education, climate change, resource and disaster management preparation to outlying communities. It does so in a sustainable way, by supporting provincial authorities in delivering their existing programs, providing access to difficult to reach areas, and a regular service to outlying island communities.
HELPR-1 can assist national EMTs and rapid response teams to reach disaster areas, minimise operational delays, and provide support for rapid impact assessment and a national response. It can also provide additional health and logistics personnel to boost capacity in the most vulnerable communities. With HELPR-1’s unique logistics platform, critical personnel, supplies, and debris clearance teams can rapidly deploy within hours of an event. With the support of the vessel, these teams are fully self-sufficient and carry additional capacities to support local infrastructure such as oxygen, and clinical and pharmaceutical supplies.
The medical capacity on board is to the level of Intensive Care, with a fully equipped resuscitation room housing bottled oxygen, an oxygen concentrator and compressor, two ventilators, full cardiac monitoring, and the entire range of medical and trauma equipment and drugs required to manage trauma, critical illness and cardiac events. Several sets of fully equipped trauma response bags are kept on board, as well as everything that is required for a response team to medevac a sick patient off the vessel to shore or to the nearest hospital.
In addition to delivering health outreach programs, HELPR-1 has been active in delivering critical supplies to outlying communities and clinics. The vessel is equipped with three full sets of shade shelters, generators, and the required furniture to create pop-up clinics. Cold chain is ensured through mobile fridges powered by battery and a portable generator, in addition to two backup ice chests. In addition, HELPR-1 carries enough chainsaws and response equipment to service three small cyclone-response and debris clearance teams and can assist with light search and rescue missions.
HELPR-1 has the capacity to facilitate onboard training of national teams preparing to respond to natural disasters and emergencies. The vessel accommodates training spaces in both outdoor and indoor areas, allowing for simulations of medical and other emergency response missions, water safety training, and disaster preparedness. The vessel has a large number of cabins to accommodate teams onboard while they are undertaking training, making it a cost-effective and unique educational experience.
HELPR-1 carries 44 crew and deployment members comfortably, with capacity for up to 56 during emergency deployments. The 14-person marine crew includes two international and twelve Ni-Van crew members. The crew includes a Master (Captain) and Chief Engineer, two officers, two additional engineers, a bosun, two deckhands, a cook, a galley assistant, administration officer and two housekeepers. Accommodation is comfortable, with 26 cabins available, 4 being doubles and 22 twin-shares.
HELPR-1 can lower a large “Explorer” tender into the water, allowing health teams to enter directly from the aft deck and be safely lowered into the water without difficult stair or rope access. The Explorer can be used for the evacuation of at least four stretchered patients at a time, or for other personnel and cargo movements. HELPR-1 also carries one smaller aluminum tender, suitable for beach and rocky surface landings, and one rigid inflatable rescue craft which is lowered into the water via an onboard crane.
The vessel is equipped with the latest navigation and safety equipment. It carries marine and land based communications systems including installed HF, VHF and satellite phones and data systems and handheld backups, and uses Starlink for data connectivity. The vessel maintains a 24/7 operational capability with round the clock marine crew watches and sailing capability in most weather conditions.