Initiation to healthcare in Papua New Guinea.
Day 4 notes from the field.
I woke up today to a frenzy of activity — everyone was packing their lunches and preparing for the first big day out. Jacqui and Mat were already packed & ready — making sure to be on the first boat out, to capture the rest of the team coming into the villages.
I quickly grabbed couple of sandwiches, put on my life-jacket and off we went on the zodiac — which Hannah from YWAM described wonderfully as “the best way to get to a day’s work.”
A quick climb up the rickety (yet now some-what more trustworthy) wooden steps on the banks of the Pie river, and a 5-minute trudge later, through the familiar, sticky mud, we stepped up onto a wooden longhouse.
Built during the dying days of Australian colonial rule as a medical centre, the longhouse is slowly falling to pieces. Stepping into the 3-feet long holes on the wooden flooring was in YWAM lingo “falling into the train tracks.” You’ll just never know what hit you until suddenly one of your legs is dangling through the floor! It was a great way to wake up without a coffee.
As I started assisting the Primary Health Care (PHC) team, I began to find my footing. The PHC team’s role is to provide basic medical checkups for adults and children, immunisations for kids and referrals to the nearby Kapuna Hospital (3 hours one-way by paddle) for any serious cases.
The word had got out in the weeks prior to our arrival about the medical ship. We were slightly surprised with the initial turnout but we found out that’s just how it always starts. Within an hour there were 3 long lines of women with children waiting outside the doorways. The whole setup worked efficiently like a well-oiled machine.
For a young mother entering the clinic, the first stop after a short time queuing is checking the vital signs (weight, age and immunisation status) of her child. Here the mothers can also choose to get themselves checked-up for any illnesses and discuss family planning. Immunisation clinic is the next stop and this is where she gets her kid’s Tetanus, Hep B, Polio, Diphtheria and Measles shots up to date. The final stop is a quick check-up with a doctor to ensure the mum is feeling healthy.
One of the first things that struck me was patience of the humanity all around me.
Patience of determined parents paddling for 6 hours to get to the clinic. Patience of the eager mums waiting in the queue. Patience of first-time volunteers on the registration table as they went through the entire day registering mums and children without sitting down. Patience of the ever-cheerful nurses as they ran out of vaccines multiple times, due to the sheer influx of mums and kids. Patience, as they waited for zodiacs to bring in fresh supplies.
“As a city kid I’ve never experienced anything so rural and remote. My help here is appreciated and needed. Its just my first day and I already feel like I want to come back again in two weeks.” — Andrew Rosenfield, first-time YWAM volunteer and my team-mate at the registration table.
The second was YWAM’s cooperation and engagement with the locals. A big part of YWAM’s strategy is to empower the local medical healthcare workers — teach them about the right medications, show them how to administer vaccinations and train them on new learnings in medical care.
Together with the PHC, two other teams were at work in parallel. The local community offered the Community Engagement (CE) team the market we visited yesterday to be turned into a makeshift education centre. The team did visual flip-chart presentations on everything ranging from understanding signs of malaria and tuberculosis, basic oral health education and family planning.
While back on the ship the Dental team carried out tooth extractions on 39 people in the ship’s purpose-built clinic. The locals would paddle themselves on their dugout canoes, dock it right next to ship’s hatch and within an hour would be back on land happy, with a toothless smile.
Its an initiation to what’s in store for us the next two weeks — intensity, fun, gratitude and a great sense of team-work and fulfillment to end the day.
Story by Ashwin Subramaniam — Co-Founder and Project Director, Gone Adventurin’
Photo Credit — Mathew Lynn