And patients needing emergency medical treatment had to be carried by stretcher up the 500-metre incline and across Maewo island to the nearest hospital.
But the arrival of a high-speed internet connection — and the country’s first telemedicine system connecting remote nurses to physicians — means these challenges could soon be a thing of the past.
Alexis Cullen, a US Peace Corps volunteer adviser for projects in telemedicine, told Pacific Beat the presence of high-speed internet in the village has already helped save the life of a pregnant woman, after a nurse connected with a doctor via Facebook.
“Using his old informal network of his colleagues, he found someone to help him before we had even finished setting up our telemedicine link,” she said.
“It was very helpful because he was alone in the clinic and he was very worried about what to do about this mother.
New frontiers in health and education, says PM
Vanuatu’s Prime Minister, Charlot Salwai, launched the telemedicine system in the village this week, declaring that information and communication technologies (ICT) could open up new frontiers in health and education for people across the country.
The villagers themselves raised the funds for the project, which has been described as the first community-led ICT initiative in Vanuatu, if not the Pacific.
“It’s become an open Wi-Fi connection and the whole community can use it,” Ms Cullen said.
“The school has connection to the internet as well and they’ve started to incorporate it.”
Ms Cullen said locals and health workers would receive training and support in telemedicine for another six months.
She said the new technology had already been eagerly embraced by villagers.
“It’s been incredible. It’s so amazing to watch someone for the first time use the internet, and especially the ability to video conference,” she said.