Help needed for life-saving mission in PNG

The violent earthquake that rocked Papua New Guinea in early 2018 – causing devastating mud slides that trapped many communities in remote mountain areas – highlights the desperate need in PNG for medical supplies, which is being helped by generous donations and volunteer work in South Australia.

Equipment from the former Royal Adelaide Hospital is being redirected to where it is needed most in the PNG highlands, thanks to the expertise and dedication of Flinders University Public Health and International Development graduate and current PhD student, Ms Shila Yukuli Paia.

Her knowledge and contacts within PNG’s health services has enabled her to identify goods available from the decommissioned RAH that will help to cover critical shortfalls in medical supplies, and obtain apparatus from ultrasounds to theatre and surgical goods – assisting in everything from childbirth to better immunisation and basic primary health care.

“Every piece that has been made available from the old RAH will be useful,” says Ms Paia, “but I’m especially pleased to have secured a surgical microscope, which I am hoping to donate to the only cancer treatment centre in PNG, the Angau Memorial Hospital in Lae.”

Ms Paia’s aim is to ensure the biomedical equipment and clinical supplies are transported to remote areas within PNG, as an estimated 85% of the country’s population is located in rural locations, and suffer from severe shortages in medical supplies and services.

Shila knows the privations of remote highlands communities all too well; she and her six siblings were all born in either caves or open bushland due to the absence of medical facilities in their region.

Her family situation reflects the lack of medical resources that are distributed to remote communities through PNG’s decentralised health care system.

“Access to services isn’t there. Basic primary health care isn’t there,” Ms Paia says.

“Women are dying giving birth and children are dying, so all of the donated equipment is going to be of great use. Simple things like syringes are going to make a lot of difference, because it means a mother can take her child to a clinic for immunisation.”

Shila was in PNG when the 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck devastating five provinces in the central area of the country, including the community she grew up in.

She is now also raising funds to purchase a 4WD to travel safely along the dirt roads damaged by mudslides, to and from communities and remote villages that have not yet been reached by helicopter.

Ms Paia says her parents lost their houses “but fortunately they we not asleep at the time so they managed to escape”.

“My village is entirely gone to rubble with all houses, food gardens, water sources, caves, rivers, school, health centre etc. destroyed or damaged. The mountain I grew up is still falling away to this day.”

Ms Shila Yukuli Paia at Flinders University.
Ms Shila Yukuli Paia at Flinders University.

As one of 29 endorsed project applications for equipment from the old RAH, Shila’s project collected her initial allocation of supplies in February, which are now being stored in a Hackham warehouse that has been provided by SA-based charity organisation Kokoda Angels until they are shipped to PNG.

She is also especially grateful for help from Dr Robert Young and the SA Intensive Care Association for providing the funds needed for the shipment logistics.

Ms Paia now hopes to obtain help from volunteers in Adelaide to perform the massive task of sorting, cataloguing, labelling and packing a shipping container the medical items that have filled the warehouse floor space.

“It will take at least a week to complete such a big task,” she says. “We probably have more than one full container of goods. If that is the case, we will try to raise more funds to send another container later.”

Packing needs to be completed by the end of April, followed by five weeks’ transportation at sea before the container lands in the PNG coastal city of Lae at the end of June.

Shila will also arrive in Lae with three SA doctors ­- Dr Yasmin Endlich, Dr Chris Acot and Dr Robert Young – and nurse Sharon Philip, who will travel with the equipment by land transport to Tari in Hela Province.

After attending an official handover ceremony, the Adelaide contingent will spend several days ensuring the proper installation and training of local health workers to use all the medical apparatus.

“Because I have been in communication with PNG health administration and the provincial health advisors, I know that every item we send to PNG is going to be of great value,” Ms Paia says. “It is going to help save lives.”

Her efforts are also being supported by SACOSS on (08) 8305 4222 and Fulcrum Aid.

For more information, donations and offers of volunteer help, please contact:

Ms Shila Yukuli Paia, PhD Candidate, Flinders University Mob: +61 458 553 630

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