Practice support for project in highlands of Papua New Guinea
One of TMMS staff, Dr. Jan Zomerdijk, general practitioner, and his wife Janny Goris, public health dietitian, travel every year to Kanabea, Papua New Guinea (PNG), to work as volunteers to help improve the local hospital and primary school.
Kanabea village is located in the highlands of the Gulf province, approximately 1,320 m above sea level with a minimum temperature of 12°C, maximum of 27°C and a yearly rainfall of 4000-7000 mm. It can only be reached by plane, because it is located in very rugged mountainous terrain, over 80 kilometres from the coast, and 250 km north-west of Port Moresby.
Kanabea hospital and school
The local hospital is an old Mission Hospital, servicing a population of 20,000 PNG people called ‘Kamea’. The hospital had its glory days some 30 years ago. Since then it has been in serious decline. There is also a local primary school with nearly 600 students. Hospital and school buildings are in disarray and there is no electricity. Communication is nearly impossible, due to unavailability of internet and very minimal mobile phone reception. Despite the lack of infrastructure, people are very keen to come to Kanabea, often walking for three days, to receive education for the children, and for medical services.” The health situation is beyond belief. Lack of iodine, protein and anaemia are only a few of the main problems. Maternal and child mortality is high and life expectancy low. The list is infinite. All of this, within 300 kilometres of Australia’s northern border!
Since 2015 Dr. Jan Zomerdijk, general practitioner, and his wife Janny Goris, public health dietitian, travel every year to Kanabea, Papua New Guinea (PNG), to work as volunteers to help improve the local hospital and primary school.
Medical materials have been donated by TMMS to the Kanabea hospital including an obstetric ultrasound. For the Kanabea primary school, school supplies have been donated, including 90 school backpacks for school children that have to walk to school for 3 days. Furthermore cement was donated for the floor of 2 new classrooms.
Jan has been providing primary health care for patients and reviewed the vaccination scheme. He also repaired the malfunctioning solar vaccination fridge. Janny conducted research in the area of nutritional status of Kamea mothers, infants and children and dietary diversity. This was done in collaboration with the University of PNG, School of Medicine. The research identified high prevalence of malnutrition and anaemia among mothers, infants and children, including moderate status of iodine deficiency among women and children. Improvements in dietary diversity, adequate use of iodised salt and community food security are needed. Research findings have been published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2016 (http://apjcn.nhri.org.tw/server/APJCN/26/4/0015.pdf). This is being followed up by further research in the area of iodine deficiency during 2017-2019.
Another important activity has been medical and nutrition education for nursing staff, which work in difficult circumstances with very few resources.
The complete absence of power supply is a major barrier for functioning of both hospital and school. The hospital has 30 beds and provides daily an outpatient clinic and a regular antenatal clinic and under-five clinic. Furthermore nursing staff frequently visit outposts and provide vaccinations. The primary school provides education to nearly 600 students from a large geographical area, where children walk up to three days to school who stay boarding for the whole semester.
The local community has expressed the urgent need for power supply. Power supply is essential for improving the services of the hospital, provide education at the school and communicate with the world. Our hope is that – if power can be supplied – the hospital will be able to employ a medical doctor again. At present a few registered nurses and 10 community health workers run the small 30-bed facility
Jan and Janny are volunteering at the PNG Foundation, a well-established organisation based in Melbourne. They plan to continue volunteering at Kanabea annually.