Kirsty Haywood is a second year Master of Health Professions Education (Thesis and Coursework) student. As an Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) Humanitarian Aid Fund recipient, she recently took a trip to Papua New Guinea to volunteer as a Midwife and Nurse with No Roads Health. Kirsty recounts her trip.
On May 20 2018, a team of volunteer Health professionals from every corner of Australia met in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Over the next 7 days we visited 8 remote coastal villages in the Oro province of PNG, providing primary health care to 860 patients. With the help of the ANF Humanitarian Aid fund, I was able to contribute my Nursing, Midwifery and Health education skills to the team.
No Roads Health has worked in partnership with local stakeholders to fund and build a Health Clinic in the central village of Tufi. Lead by an amazing team of local staff, the Tufi clinic is designed to be a central health service for the surrounding villages.
Rough sea conditions at this time of the year means a long (2-6 hour) paddle in outrigger canoes for the villagers to access the Tufi Health Clinic. No Roads Health help to combat this by providing two outreach services per year during the rougher months to the outer laying remote villages. They also invest in the people, providing some basic health care education to local Village Birth Attendants (VBA’s) and Village Health Volunteers (VHV’s). Although unpaid positions, the local VBA’s and VHV’s attend the training willingly and assist their fellow neighbours with their heart and souls.
During our 7 day outreach service, we treated a range of patients with a variety of conditions. Our clinical assessment skills were sharpened rapidly with the lack of diagnostic tools at our disposal. We had to work together as a team, brainstorming to determine diagnoses and best treatment options with limited resources, drawing on our wide variety of clinical experience. At all times we were shadowed by the VBA’s and VHV’s, who assisted with interpretation of the local Pidgin into English and absorbed our collective knowledge like sponges.
We were soon introduced to the highly contagious and wide spread tropical skin diseases of Yaws and Grille. I personally spent an hour cleansing and dressing the open, weeping sores of a brave young boy with Yaw’s on every part of his body. After calculating and dispensing his required dose of Azithromycin to treat it, I sent him on his way. He hovered near by watching me work for the rest of the afternoon and was then on hand to help set up my tent on the beach as the sun set. I knew I had made a firm friend there.
We saw hundreds of patients with “strong cough” (this equalled anything from a simple URTI to complicated pneumonia requiring intramuscular antibiotics in some cases) and “hot body”. This resulted in a Rapid Diagnosis malarial test being attended with far too many coming back positive. We quickly ran out of the malaria treatment we had on hand and were forced to refer many sick patients back to the Tufi clinic to collect the required malarial treatment.
In two cases, the team pooled together their own precious prophylactic malarial medication, Malarone, to treat seriously unwell patients. In Australia, these two patients would have been admitted to high dependency units, being highly febrile, hypotensive, tachycardic and tachypnoeic. We were so fearful that they wouldn’t survive the journey to the Tufi clinic that we handed over our own precious medication, knowing that we could easily get a prescription for more on our return home, to see out the obligatory ongoing prophylactic period.
Our return to Tufi village after our week of outreach clinics rewarded us with hot showers, calls home to loved ones and a scan of social media in the patchy WIFI. One of the first articles to pop up was the Sydney Morning Herald piece titled “Unrecognised crisis: 160km from Australia women in serious danger.” The article reported on the most recent evaluation of maternal health in PNG, surmising that the well-known health crisis was getting worse.
The article advised that greater support was needed at local village level. My time with No Roads Health can confirm this is indeed the case. The tireless efforts of the No Roads Health team, local PNG volunteers and funding from sources such as the ANF Humanitarian Aid Fund means we are able to contribute to the solution in some way. Thank you very much for the opportunity to play a part in helping our beautiful neighbours to realise better health outcomes.
I strongly advise any other ANF members with a sense of adventure, a hard work ethic and a team spirit to consider taking part in a future No Roads Health expedition.