Orthopaedic Outreach at Vaiola Hospital, Nuku'alofa; Dr Charlotte Fakahau
Updates / Community, 7 Dec 23
PMA Member and Orthopaedic Registrar, Dr Charlotte Fakahau is part of a project in Tonga, led by Orthopaedic Surgeon, Mr John van Dalen, addressing critical orthopaedic needs in a nation where specialised care is scarce.

During her years as a medical student, Dr Fakahau initiated her involvement with Vaiola Hospital in Nuku'alofa, Tonga. She emphasized the importance of early relationship-building in the medical profession under the mentorship of PMA President, Dr Kiki Maoate and PMA Patron, Lord Viliami Tangi 'o Vaonukonuka. 

"It’s important that I don’t wait until I am finally qualified as a specialist and then show up and be like, okay, I’m here to solve everyone’s problems because that’s not how it should be," she remarks. 

Dr Fakahau recently concluded a week-long outreach trip in Tonga assisting orthopaedic surgeon, Mr John van Dalen. The primary aim during these visits was to aid and instruct the local surgical team in managing complex fractures. The absence of an orthopaedic specialist team in Tonga means that many patients endure fractures without immediate surgical intervention. 

"Lots of the broken bones in Tonga are managed without surgery such as a cast or traction," Dr Fakahau explains, describing the challenging conditions patients face, often bedridden for six weeks or more. 

During their trips, Dr Fakahau and the team encountered common issues such as hip fractures and slipped hip bones in children.  

"In Tonga, it was a shock that the patients are in bed, and their family has to visit them every day to take care of them for a whole six weeks, at least."  

The disparities in medical care between Tonga and developed nations like New Zealand became starkly evident. 

Beyond medical care, Mr John van Dalen is actively involved in fundraising efforts to upgrade the infrastructure of Vaiola Hospital and to upgrade two operating theatres. Dr Fakahau highlights the pressing need for improved ventilation in theatres to help counteract rising post-operative infection rates.  

Taking a holistic approach, Dr Fakahau envisions a sustainable impact, "I know it’s a long way away, but why not start now," she says, reflecting on her efforts to include other registrars in these outreach missions. The goal is clear: to pave the way for future generations of doctors dedicated to the cause. 

Dr Fakahau acknowledges Mr John van Dalen for utilising his skills and expertise in Tonga to assist the local community. 

“I'm thankful for Mr John van Dalen's dedicated efforts during the outreach trip. He has paved a path for improvement in orthopaedics, both in New Zealand and Tonga. I appreciate the opportunity to follow in his footsteps and am grateful for his impactful leadership. Having someone like John, who is not of Tongan descent, contribute positively to Tonga is truly fortunate." 

Inspired by the positive changes witnessed during medical outreach missions in Tonga, Dr Fakahau envisions a brighter future.  

"My goal is to contribute to a future where a diverse group of doctors can make a lasting impact in our communities."