I have recently had the privilege of completing a voluntary medical mission to Papua New Guinea. I was part of a Rotary team of 7 members which visited the town of Losuia which is on Kiriwina Island. We visited as a part of the “Save the Kula Babies Project” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4lM4CYwlepU This island is part of the Trobriand Island group in the Milne Bay province of PNG. It is the first time I have undertaken this type of work.
Kiriwina Island has a population probably in the order of 40 000 people. Until 12 months ago there had not been a doctor on this island for 27 years! Through the “Save the Kula Babies Project” a doctor is now working on the island. There is a health centre/hospital on the island but the facilities are very basic. There is minimal running water and only electricity from 6pm til 10pm when the diesel generator is running. There is a small but highly committed staff of nurses/midwives.
As you would imagine there are numerous health challenges on the island. The area is considered to have one of the highest rates of perinatal mortality (babies dying in late pregnancy or shortly after birth) & maternal mortality (mothers dying in association with pregnancy/birth) in the world. However one of the key issues is overpopulation. There is very little on offer in terms of contraception. It is commonplace for women to have 6 children or more. This is resulting in overcrowding, problems with food supply, disputes over land as well as numerous other issues. The main goal of our mission was to start rolling out some family planning initiatives.
To work in conjunction with our team from Sydney a local team from mainland PNG (Alotau) was coordinated to visit at the same time. Their trip to the island was a bit more onerous than ours – a 12 hour barge trip! They came equipped to perform tubal ligations.
The doctor on the island (the amazing Dr Gee) and the local health care workers did lots of pre visit publicity for the mission.
The weather was typically tropical, hot humid & oppressive. The conditions were very basic and challenged our resourcefulness. Through the Rotary project extra diesel fuel was provided to run the generator throughout the day enabling us to run our sterilisers and have light. The majority of the women did not speak English. Despite these things the support for our project was overwhelming. The people themselves were simply beautiful.
Our teams consisted of
Sydney: Dr Don (paediatrician, engineer/handyman etc), 4 midwives Srs Marian, Trish, Barb & Anna & our incredible project manager Wendy & me.
Alotau: one doctor & 4 nurses
Between us we managed to insert 300 contraceptive implants, 10 intrauterine contraceptive devices and perform 65 tubal sterilisations. That is a total of 375 family planning procedures!
This is the first time that a medical team from outside of PNG has ever visited the island. We inserted the first contraceptive implant and the first IUCD ever inserted on the island. The local staff are trained and will continue with this work.
There is much to be done but as they say the journey of a thousand miles starts with one step.