Victoria-Vanuatu Physician Project

The Victoria-Vanuatu Physician Project (ViVa) was a Canadian non-governmental organization of physicians and their families from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. For 24 years it supplied a medical doctor to the island of Tanna, Vanuatu.



In 1990, CUSO International approached the James Bay Community Project[1] in the city of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, with the objective of creating a professional and cultural connection between Canada and another Pacific Rim country.[2] After consultation with the Victoria Medical Society[3] and the Government of the Republic of Vanuatu, it was decided to start a project that would provide medical doctors for rural Vanuatu.[citation needed]In 1991, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed between the Government of the Republic of Vanuatu and the Victoria Doctors Association, later renamed the Victoria-Vanuatu Physician Project (also Society or Association) or ViVa for short. The job description was for 6-month postings as Medical Superintendent of Tafea province, stationed at Lenakel Hospital on the island of Tanna. In 1994, CUSO International assisted the ViVa organization in establishing itself as an independent Canadian non-profit society with registered charity status and the MOU was revised.[4]

From 1991 to 2015, ViVa provided continuous physician coverage for Tafea province. As Medical Superintendent, the ViVa doctor's responsibilities included inpatient and outpatient care at Lenakel Hospital, minor surgeries and obstetrics, and regular visits to the nine Tafea provincial health outposts.[5][6][7][8] In 2014 ViVa could no longer recruit enough Victoria physicians to sustain the project.[9] At the same time, ni-Van (native Vanuatu) medical student graduates were returning from training in Cuba and China and would soon be available for placement around the country.[10] ViVa gave 6-months written notice to the Government of Vanuatu of its intention to terminate the project. The Vanuatu Ministry of Health developed a transitional medical staffing plan to provide a rotation of ni-Van doctors to the Island.[11]

On the 13th of March, 2015, six weeks after the last ViVa doctor left Vanuatu, the country was struck by Cyclone Pam, a Category 5 hurricane. The hospital and many homes were damaged or destroyed.[12] ViVa changed its mandate to humanitarian relief and raised CAN$ 150,000 for rebuilding.[13][14][15][16][17] Over the next 3 years, ViVa worked, from a distance, with the Australian Rotary Club of Port Macquarie (District 9650), New South Wales,[18] and the Vanuatu National Disaster Management Office to use this money to renovate and repair the Lenakel Hospital and staff housing.[19] Funds were exhausted and repairs completed in 2018. In March 2019, the Victoria-Vanuatu Physician Association revoked its charity status with the Canadian Revenue Agency and dissolved as a society.[citation needed]



ViVa was a voluntary organization of physicians with no employees. Funds raised were used to subsidize return travel costs for the ViVa doctor and family, maintain and replace the doctor's motor vehicle as needed, and to purchase some medical equipment. The Government of Vanuatu provided housing, work visas, medical licensure, and salary (local scale) for each new doctor.[citation needed]

Most ViVa doctors were general practitioners with at least 3 years of clinical experience recruited from the greater Victoria area or elsewhere in British Columbia. Some Victoria specialist physicians provided advanced-skills training. A minimum 7-day crossover period allowed the incoming doctor and family to live and work on Tanna with the outgoing doctor and family.[20][21]


  1. ^ James Bay Community Project, Victoria BC, Canada website
  2. ^ Swale, Simon "CUSO Emphasizes Building Alliances" Tok Blong Pasifik Issue 49 Spring 1995 Newsletter of the Pacific Peoples Partnership
  3. ^ Victoria Medical Society, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada website
  4. ^ Memorandum of Understanding Between the Victoria-Vanuatu Physicians Society and the Government of Vanuatu 1994 available at
  5. ^ Oakey-Baker, Sue "Traces of Tanna: Canadian doctors work with Melanesian population in South Pacific" Pique NewsMagazine 2017;August 17
  6. ^ Khazei, Afshin "Reflections: Performing Caesarian Sections in the Dark" Canadian Family Physician 2000 May:46 p1028
  7. ^ Iolu Abil, former Vanuatu President, said the following in a November 2012 public speech during a visit by the Canadian High Commissioner Michael Small: "I wish to note in particular a special arrangement currently in place, whereby experienced Canadian medical doctors are being recruited on a 6-months rotational basis to serve our main hospital for the Southern province of Tafea. I wish to further note that such service touches the very core of our people's lives and has a long-term positive impact on the over-all welfare of our people, for which we are truly grateful." as reported by Glenda Shing in "Head of State Welcomes High Commissioner of Canada" Vanuatu Daily Post 30 November 2012
  8. ^ Letter to The Canadian Doctors Association from The Native Paramount Custom Chiefs 2015-02-01 available at
  9. ^ Vanuatu Daily Post “Medical Doctor needed for Lenakel” Vanuatu Daily Post 09 January 2015
  10. ^ Roberts, Anita "More doctors trained in Cuba returning to Vanuatu" Vanuatu Daily Post 26 July 2016
  11. ^ Vanuatu Daily Post "Vanuatu Outreach Program kicks off in Tafea province" Vanuatu Daily Post 04 March 2015
  12. ^ Roberts, Anita "Lenakel Hospital damaged beyond comprehension" Vanuatu Daily Post 28 March 2015
  13. ^ Hager, Mike "B.C. doctors say more help needed in Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam" Toronto Globe and Mail 17 March 2015
  14. ^ Canadian Broadcasting Corporation "Cyclone Pam: Volunteer B.C. doctor seeks help for Vanuatu victims" On the Coast CBC News 16 March 2015
  15. ^ Carter, Mike "Dawson Creek doctor wants to help cyclone-hit Vanuatu" Dawson Creek Mirror Newspaper 23 March 2015
  16. ^ Marple, Stacy "Cyclone Pam hits the hearts of Haida Gwaii" Haida Gwaii Observer Newspaper 06 April 2015
  17. ^ Leduc E, Veres L, "Report: Vanuatu Visit 09-18 Dec 2015" available at
  18. ^ Vanuatu Daily Post "Rotary District 9650 maintains commitment to Vanuatu under new leadership" Vanuatu Daily Post 20 July 2017
  19. ^ Roberts, Anita "Contract signed for health repair works on Tafea" Vanuatu Daily Post 03 October 2016
  20. ^ Slobodian, Sandy "ViVa Brings Canada and Vanuatu Closer Together" Tok Blong Pasifik Issue 49 Spring 1995 p22 Newsletter of the Pacific Peoples Partnership
  21. ^ Leduc, Eugene "Mitufala dokta lanem plenti long Vanuatu! (We two doctors learned a lot in Vanuatu!)" BCMJ 2010:52(3) p129