Loltong Village's Story
Supporting Women’s Reproductive Role
Although guidebooks describe Loltong Village, Vanuatu, as the ‘principal administrative center’ of Pentecost Island, the seaside township has no government buildings, and just one truck that is owned by the son of Chief Richard.
Depending on who you ask, the population is anywhere from 100 to 300. There is running water in the village, but this does not reach individual homes. Chief Richard’s house has solar panels, but the battery is dry and there has been no power for some time. There is a “bakery” in a dirt-floor hut with a wood-fire oven that makes and sells bread daily, and a small store supplied by a ship that comes once a week. Locals wish that the ship could bring more basic items, such as better soap.
Ten years ago, researchers estimate that one-quarter of women had “an unmet need for contraception”. This situation is improving, thanks in part to Vanuatu’s work with NGOs and changes in policy. The government provides free vasectomies and uses NGOs to train student nurses in family planning counseling. Fertility rates in Vanuatu, and some other Pacific Island nations, remain high.
At Loltong Village, there is a local dispensary where the nurse assists the community with family planning.
Nurse Philip Rone invites women to come with their husbands to discuss their family planning needs. “[The husband ] must be fully agreed”. The couple pays 200 vatu (about $US2) for the first visit and after that there is no charge. He provides birth control pills in 3-month supplies.
Philip says that the Department of Health is “preaching” to limit the number of children to four per family. This is “not a law or a policy,” but more like a recommendation.
The dispensary is also where women go for pre-natal and post-natal care when they are expecting to give birth. When a woman thinks she is pregnant, she visits the dispensary. The nurse helps to determine a due date. The nurse then sees her about once a month. When the baby is due, she comes to the dispensary to deliver and stays 5 days after the delivery, or longer if there are problems. It costs the family 3000 vatu (about US$30 or €23) to have a baby there. The woman’s family provides the food while she is hospitalized.
“If there’s a problem”, reports dispensary nurse Philip Rone, “I have a stretcher. We carry her on the stretcher to a boat or car.” The woman is taken to the Health Center at Abwatora, about two-and-a-half kilometers (1.5 miles) away.
The most typical problem he encounters with births is difficulty in expelling the placenta. “I can’t deal with it here because we run short of gas. The drugs [for the injection he would give] have to be in the refrigerator. The gas bottle has to go to [the city of Luganville in] Santo to be refilled. There is a problem with finance.”
The dispensary has a gas-powered refrigerator but the large gas bottle has been empty for some time and thus has had no refrigeration for some time.
Based on an interview by Katie Coolbaugh. Photographs by Katie Coolbaugh.