Royal New Zealand Air Force Flight Lieutenant Alexandra Ablelentseva tests the water quality created by the desalination plant during Exercise Tropic Twilight 2015.
23 September 2015
As the sole doctor for a 60-strong multinational humanitarian mission to the northern Cook Islands, the New Zealand Defence Force’s (NZDF) Alexandra Abelentseva certainly has her hands full.
At 6am every day, Flight Lieutenant (FLTLT) Abelentseva runs a ‘sick parade’ where soldiers come to see her for any medical issues and dressing changes, before heading off to work on the infrastructure projects being delivered under Exercise Tropic Twilight.
“This is the first time I’ve been in the South Pacific so it’s quite an experience working in a completely different environment,” said the former Christchurch Air Cadet.
“I have to be aware of new infections and creatures that could be poisonous. Even simple things like putting on a plaster have become a big challenge as it does not stay on with humidity often approaching 80 percent and temperatures in the high 30s.”
A team comprising of FLTLT Abelentseva, a nurse, and three medics run the field clinic at Penrhyn Atoll. FLTLT Abelentseva also helps out with water treatment, pest control, and waste management.
“We are in a very isolated place with the closest hospital being four hours away by plane, so I have to keep a close eye on everyone and anticipate any medical issues. The team and I see soldiers in the clinic and provide medical cover on the construction sites, and I have also been helping the local nurse, where required.”
FLTLT Abelentseva said Tropic Twilight has enabled her to gain more experience and confidence working in a remote environment.
“As a medical team, a lot of planning goes into bringing the specific equipment and medications and drawing up an evacuation plan.
“I’ve also enjoyed working with our Army and coalition partners.”
FLTLT Abelentseva and her family migrated to New Zealand from Kazakhstan when she was 11.
“One day I heard the Air Force was recruiting doctors so I went along and joined up.”
When she is not deployed FLTLT Abelentseva looks after the day-to-day medical care of personnel at Whenuapai Air Force base, reviews their medical status to ensure they are deployable, provides medical advice to personnel who have returned from overseas missions and to those deployed, and takes part in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) missions.
Tropic Twilight aims to practise the NZDF’s capability to provide HADR in the Southwest Pacific. The exercise is being conducted from 31 August – 12 October in partnership with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the government of the Cook Islands.
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