Story by Mandy Glass. Photos by Dr. Rebecca Williams.
As MAF we are looking for key strategic partners with whom we can connect in order to facilitate significant transformation in remote areas. In 2017, MAF PNG met with Dr David Mills (Medical Superintendent of Enga Baptist Health Services) to discuss just that. “Currently I walk to about ten different communities as often as I can, carrying out health patrols,” Dr Mills stated. “Since it’s a two to three days walk each way to some of these communities, I might only be able to get to them once a year. The time I spent walking is time spent away from patients in need of treatment. If I could fly to these communities, I could literally get to every community each quarter!”
This conversation indeed turned into the set-up of the Kompiam Health Patrols and since then, MAF has flown the team more than 30 times to 7 different communities they work with in the Enga and East Sepik Provinces.
Health Patrol to Malaumanda
At the end of April 2021, a team of 9 staff from the Kompiam rural hospital went to Malaumanda. During their stay they attended to a total of 168 patients, many with generalised fungal skin infections, pneumonia or chronic obstructive airway disease and osteoarthritis.
A total of 463 immunisations were given, including the Pentavalent (5-in-1 vaccine protecting against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and Haemophilia influenza type B), the measles-rubella vaccine, polio vaccines, and vitamin-A supplements.
Due to the pandemic, there was no health patrol in 2020, so many children required multiple vaccinations and school age children also required a tetanus toxoid booster.
Beside the clinics and care for the patients, the team also provided malaria, HIV, haemoglobin and hepatitis testing for patients as well as health education on the topics of dental care, nutrition, HIV and Covid.
Dr Rebecca Williams, who led the team, is now Medical Superintendent at the Kompiam District Hospital under Enga Baptist Health Services. It was a first visit for her to Malaumanda. The remoteness and lack of reliable communication really stood out to her.
“We stayed out an extra day on patrol due to some technical difficulties,” reported Dr Rebecca, “an extra day that we didn't plan for or anticipate. Needless to say, it was an interesting experience for us. It was also my first time to travel out to Malaumanda for a clinic. It’s a very remote area, surrounded by very big mountains. I was told that to travel out to Wewak would take about 3 days walking through the jungle, followed by 3 days on a motor canoe. There are no other villages nearby to Malaumanda within one or even two days walking distance. This is very different from the areas we normally visit. “I learnt that Malaumanda is considered a part of the Laigam District in Enga (a completely different district from ours) but also comes under East Sepik Province, being situated somewhere along the two borders. The people speak a different language but still understand Engan to some degree.”
The challenges of communication
“Whilst waiting for the plane to pick us up, there was no way we could communicate to find out if the plane was coming or if there had been some problems. The one HF radio set up there by New Tribes Mission was not working. We were able to hear people over the radio but not talk back as there was an issue with the transmitter. There is also no cell coverage in Malaumanda. The people have to walk 3-4 hours up the side of one of the mountains to receive a cell signal.
“The waiting and not knowing when the plane would come made me understand just how hopeless someone from there would feel if they were very sick or if a woman had a difficult labour and needed to get out quickly, particularly if they also didn't have any way to communicate that need with the outside world. Then the immense relief of hearing the plane flying overhead and knowing that you would get out and get help, makes you appreciate small things like having cell signal to call or having roads to travel on and perhaps most important, having MAF present to give that hope to people who would otherwise be completely forgotten.
“Even for me, being relatively healthy and fit, imagining a 3-day walk and 3-day canoe ride to get out to a main town if the plane didn't come was very daunting. It must be a thousand times worse for a sick patient or parent carrying their sick child or a husband carrying their wife in labour to make that journey.”
The challenges to receive medical care
“I imagine the hopelessness the people in Malaumanda feel when they can't get out and get help especially if they are sick, must be similar to the hopelessness people in towns and cities are experiencing now; when they turn up to a hospital or clinic only to find out it’s shut because of Covid and they can't get the medications, surgeries or help that they desperately need.
“If anything good comes out of Covid, I would hope that the experiences we are facing now, particularly in the cities and towns, helps us to understand what our own people have been experiencing out in the bush all these years and that ownership of these issues and effort is made by the country to support and expand services like those provided by MAF.“