Giving Back in Paradise
A Rivers Fiji Adventure Takes a Doctor Beyond the Norm of Everyday Tourism
Tourism can make positive contributions to local communities and conservation. With this in mind, O.A.R.S. established Rivers Fiji in 1997—a true community-based, ecotourism company. A Rivers Fiji adventure offer visitors to Fiji the opportunity for travel to natural areas while promoting conservation and contributing to the well-being of local people.
With such goals in mind, O.A.R.S.’ Fiji operation has also coordinated with U.S.-based doctors to bring health care to the remote, interior rain forest of Viti Levu, Fiji’s big island. Dr. Gregory Juckett, MD, MPH is one doctor who helps Rivers Fiji give back to the community. We sat down with him to talk about the Rivers Fiji health project…
Q: How did you get involved with the Rivers Fiji health project?
A: I first heard about the need in Nakavika Village from (the directors) of Rivers Fiji during their visit to WVU to plan “Adventure WVU” in Fiji. Nakavika sounded like an ideal site for a medical outreach clinic for our senior medical students studying Global Health. My physician colleague Dr. Jan Palmer joined the mission.
Q: What inspires you to offer your expertise, time and energy to such projects?
A: These rotations can be a wonderful learning experience for everyone involved: students, faculty and patients. The medical team sets up a clinic and provides much needed care in a cross-cultural setting. During medical school, my overseas rotation in Rwanda was the most life-changing part of my medical education and something I want my students to experience.
Q: What are some challenges faced when providing health care in the remote interior of the Fiji Islands?
A: Logistics. First we must obtain medical donations. Meds that can’t be donated must be purchased, which gets expensive. Temporary medical licenses must be obtained with government approval. All items must be packed for Fiji, fees paid, and paperwork completed to get everything through customs.
It also took a year of planning to get a WVU Engineers Without Borders team to Nakavika to address their drinking water needs. The team installed sand filters for water purification, providing Nakavika with a long-term public health benefit.
This past year there was Cyclone Daphne, which dumped massive amounts of rain creating a national state of emergency. The access bridge to the village washed away and equipment had to be ported by hand across the river. Fiji was essentially paralyzed, but Rivers Fiji managed to get us to Nakavika and our clinic went off without a hitch.
Q: That must have left you with some great memories.
A: What might sound like a disaster was actually a wonderful experience for everyone. Fijian hospitality in the village, kava ceremonies, and a sense of humor by all. Our students were thrilled by the friendships they made and the beauty of the Fijian highlands.
Q: Would you do it again?
A: The answer is, of course, yes. Fiji, even during cyclone season, is a very, very hard place to leave.
Gregory Juckett, MD, MPH is Professor of Family Medicine at West Virginia University, Morgantown, where he is also Director of the University’s International Travel Clinic. He received a medical degree from the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, Hershey, and a Master’s Degree in Public Health from West Virginia University. He completed a family medicine residency at the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston. Dr. Juckett has a Certificate of Knowledge in Tropical Medicine and Travelers’ Health and a Certificate in Travel Medicine. He has extensive short-term medical experience in the developing world and serves on the board of Children’s Relief International.