Only a life lived for others
is a life worth living
In 2002 both Goroka and Mount Hagen hospitals were without a specialist Obstetrician Gynaecologist and since then I’ve been up several times to each of these hospitals to provide short-term cover. The Highlands of PNG is an easy place to fall in love with. The people are friendly and the lush, topical mountainous countryside is magnificent. Both Goroka and Mount Hagen hospitals each have approximately 4002 to 4500 deliveries per year. There is a high perinatal and maternal mortality. The maternal mortality is between 500 to 900 per 100,000 births. The facilities are grossly inadequate and the nursing and medical staff work under trying circumstances. Many nurses and doctors have also done short-term stints at both of these hospitals. The people are friendly and the lush, topical mountainous countryside is magnificent. In 2002 when I returned to PNG after nearly 30 years absence two things struck me immediately. Firstly there had been a massive increase in population and secondly I had forgotten how friendly and hospitable the locals are. One of the great pleasures of my life has to become reacquainted with this beautiful country and its very friendly people.
In 1974, as a Senior House Officer, I went back to Rabaul, this time with Sue (my now wife), as the O & G Consultant, and spent a further month beside Talili Bay. My own children were born and the years passed. We were on the point of holidaying in Rabaul in 1994 when the town disappeared under volcanic ash, a tragic event in the Pacific’s most beautiful harbour. Around 2003 I met up with an older, wiser and very much grayer Dr Hoffman at a conference, and heard that he had started going up to the highlands of PNG again. “Why don’t you come?” he asked me. “Why not indeed!” I replied. So in 2004 we went and worked in Goroka (Eastern Highlands Province), traveling to Rabaul and Madang, and in 2005 I return and spent 2 weeks in Mt. Hagen (Western Highlands Province). The Highlands Foundation was established, and I have enjoyed the challenge of sourcing and packing appropriate and useful medical equipment, linen, beds, textbooks, wheelchairs, surgical instruments, etc into 3 (soon to be 4) shipping containers which were successfully sent to Goroka and Mt. Hagen. After a lifetime of running a private practice, I retired from my private obstetric practice in 20… continuing with the Gynae practice and traveling around the country doing short-term locums. With my free time, I enjoy working on my country property, getting my hands dirty in the garden, and of course fulfilling my role as Vice- President of the Highlands Foundation. In August 2007 I will complete a short course through the Burnet Institute run in partnership with Monash University’s Centre for Health Economics, which focuses on tools for allocating health resources in developing countries.
I asked the director of nursing, if they liked to have The Highlands foundation be involved with her hospital? Her comment was memorable.
“When I give the new mothers the mother and baby bundles, from the highlands foundation, they have tears in their eyes. It is the first time that they have ever received a gift and this one, will keep her baby warm and help to prevent the sometimes lethal pneumonia.” The goods from the containers are saving lives of both mothers and babies.
On my return, I decided that I wanted to be involved in helping with the Foundation in any way possible. I am now the secretary, and I help by collecting goods for both the container and the mother and baby packs.
I currently work at The Women’s hospital, Melbourne, as a clinical educator and I have a passion for midwifery, safe birth and midwifery education. My desire is to see the highlands foundation grow so that more health professionals can have the wonderful experience of PNG, and that we can continue to supply much needed goods to the mother’s and babies of the Highlands.
I have always been fascinated by PNG, because it is wild, exotic and a little bit dangerous. Despite PNG being our closest neighbor, most of us would be unaware of the daily struggles experienced by most Guineans.
In November last year, I volunteered in a hospital in Goroka and throughout that time I learned more in that month than a whole year studying Medicine. I arranged this through the Highlands Foundation- a fantastic organisation that provides funds, equipment and training opportunities for health care centers in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. I learned that Guineans are happy, generous and fiercely loyal. They welcomed me into their homes, ensured my safety and we had a lot of fun. They are the strongest people I have ever met. I helped women give birth to babies in basic conditions and attempted resuscitation on children while their families stood by. People woke up during surgery due to primitive anesthetic techniques, and we ran out of medications and medical supplies including those used to treat TB. Death was a constant presence at the hospital- I will never forget the haunting wailing of the women as they sung songs to mourn a relative’s death.
I had the opportunity to learn so much and wanted to share some of my skills with the hospital staff. One of the things that shocked me most was realising that none of the staff had up-to-date CPR training. I taught a CPR course to all staff at the hospital and was overwhelmed by the positive response. I realised that the best way to improve health in PNG is to equip staff with current knowledge and skills to help improve patient outcomes. I feel privileged that I have skills and knowledge that I can share, and hope that I will be able to make a difference to the lives of people living in PNG.
I always wanted to work in a 3rd world country and was waiting to get my children to a mature age so I could fulfil this dream. So imagine my excitement when I met the one and only Dr. Ian Hoffman who had worked in PNG!
Following a conversation with Ian I was invited to join a team going to Mt. Hagen in 2006. Since that trip I have been privileged to travel to Mt. Hagen on 3 other occasions. I have experienced many things in PNG over the years and to condense these experiences is difficult.
As you know there is poverty, unemployment, lack of infrastructure,security issues, basic ammenities, lack of finance and resources and the list goes on and on. And the country is only 2 hours from Australia! It is completely overwhelming when you first arrive there. But it is also awesome, exciting and friendly. Our time is mostly spent in the labour ward assisting with deliveries and attending our own deliveries at the Mt. Hagen General Hospital. In Mt. Hagen they now attend over 450 births a month, increasing by 200 a month since the introduction of free maternity care in 2010. Prior to that date women had to pay 20 kena to have their babies in the hospital. Obviously this was to assist in reducing the high maternal and neonatal deaths that occur in PNG.
One of my main roles is attending talks on neonatal resuscitation and to supply the ward with bags and masks, oxygen tubing and suction tubing. I take as much equipment as I can with me. Each time I have been there I clean up the very old and dirty resus cots in both the labour ward and special care baby unit and teach the staff how to use the bags and masks. AND on the lighter side, each time I go back I have to retrieve the previous bags and masks which have been put back in an office and re-educate the staff in their use. At this point it is important to respect that the staff are more comfortable in using frog breathing for resus. and you know as soon as you leave they return to this method, so we go over that too. However a small but important step for me was that on my last visit the bags and masks were at each labour ward bedside and on the resus cot! So my insistance and education is starting to have some influence! This was a real achievement for me.
I look forward to returning next year and once again learning from these incredible people and also sharing my knowledge with them.