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Palau establishes national emergency medical team (EMT)

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Training ended today for 18 members of Palau’s new national Emergency Medical Team (EMT), under a partnership with the Government of the Republic of Palau, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to enhance preparedness for disasters, disease outbreaks and other crises. The Republic of Palau is now the smallest country in the world by population to have established an EMT.

Palau’s EMT is named Team Klemat after the rope that holds the sails of the country’s traditional canoes. It is composed of health professionals including doctors, nurses, and logisticians trained to respond rapidly to sudden-onset emergencies or outbreaks in the nation of approximately 18,000 people spread across more than 300 islands. In the future, Team Klemat may look beyond Palau’s borders to provide support to neighbouring countries and territories in their time of need.

The Honorable Gaafar J. Uherbelau, Minister of Health and Human Services, Republic of Palau, characterized the inaugural five-day EMT training this week as an important milestone for Palau:

“In the Pacific, we are coping with COVID-19, worsening disasters due to climate change and outbreaks of infectious diseases such as measles or dengue. Palau may be small in terms of population size but we are not only a small island state, we are also a large-ocean nation, and we need the capacity to cover communities dotted across hundreds of miles of Pacific Ocean. It is reassuring to know that when the next crisis strikes, Team Klemat can deploy immediately to provide high-quality medical care to protect people and save lives.”

Ambassador of the United States of America to the Republic of Palau, His Excellency John Hennessy-Niland, said, “The current pandemic has reverberated across the Pacific for months and years, and has shone a light on the importance of our local first responders. The support of the WHO and the work of the Palau MHHS to continue to improve and better prepare for the next time they are called upon to serve their community in an emergency, no matter how dire or austere the conditions, is commendable. Palau’s Emergency Medical Team, Team Klemat, is an inspiration to us all.”

WHO’s support for Team Klemat includes training and ongoing technical support, as well as the procurement of equipment and supplies to facilitate future deployments. With these materials, known as a “cache,” Team Klemat will be fully self-sufficient, and ready to deploy within hours.

Dr Mark Jacobs, WHO Representative to the South Pacific and Director of Pacific Technical Support said, “WHO is delighted to work with the Government of the Republic of Palau, USAID and other partners to support the establishment and training of Klemat. In Palau, as in other Pacific island countries and areas, establishing national EMTs is a critical part of country preparedness and will enable the rapid and life-saving response to a wide range of emergencies in future.”

Team Klemat joins other EMTs established in the Pacific with WHO support: Cook Islands Medical Assistance Team (KukiMAT), Fiji Emergency Medical Assistance Team (FEMAT), CNMI EMT in the Northern Mariana Islands, Solomon Islands Medical Assistance Team (SOLMAT), Tonga Emergency Medical Assistance Team (TEMAT) and Vanuatu Medical Assistance Team (VanMAT). Teams are also being established in several other Pacific island countries and areas including Kiribati, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea and Tuvalu.

In addition to the partnership with USAID, WHO’s work to establish and enhance EMT capacity in the Pacific is also supported the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the European Union, the Government of Japan, and the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT).