AFTER A LONG absence, the international medical-humanitarian organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), has returned to the Autonomous Region of Bougainville to assist in delivering much-needed healthcare in the remote southern region of Buin.
Ten years after the signing of the peace agreement following the Bougainville civil war, the situation in terms of access to healthcare remains dire.
The war began in 1988 and lasted 10 years, caused the deaths and displacement of tens of thousands of people and left the island’s infrastructure in tatters. Health services were severely limited, and today there is only one functioning hospital for a population of around 200,000.
Although relatively peaceful now, and despite rebuilding efforts, the southern area continues to be neglected and access to quality healthcare for the population poses substantial issues.
“If the people living in Buin need to go to a hospital, they have six hours to travel, if they are lucky. Sometimes it can take anywhere up to ten hours or more,” said Patricia Convent, Head of Mission for Médecins Sans Frontières.
“The only hospital is in the north, on Buka Island, and to get there it’s necessary to cross about 15 rivers and travel on roads which are not in good condition. There are only ten qualified doctors in the whole of Bougainville, and eight of them are in Buka.
“People who cannot get to this area easily are left without adequate medical assistance. In an area where malaria is endemic, and where maternal mortality rates are some of the highest in the Asia Pacific region, we saw that we needed to come back.”
At the Buin health centre, the MSF team is working alongside the Division of Health to provide medical assistance in the outpatient, inpatient and maternity departments, as well as improving the quality of antenatal and postnatal care. Due to the lack of qualified medical staff throughout Bougainville, staff training across all departments will also be a core component of the work.
“We received one woman from a nearby village, who was having seizures during her labour,” said Convent. “She delivered a stillborn baby and stayed two days in a coma. We are so thankful that the woman survived, but without adequate intervention, she would certainly have died.”
Since MSF began work in April, the number of patients coming to the health centre has increased significantly. In May alone, the medical team saw 741 patients, compared to 1,110 patients in the first three months of the year.
“These figures reflect the need for our return to Bougainville,” noted Convent.
Source: Médecins Sans Frontières