BY SCOTT WAIDE
The child has been given away for adoption and Dilung - who appears to be in her 60s - says this was because Martina has too many children. She doesn’t say how many, but she points to a boy behind her and says: “That’s one of them.”
In Saidor, like in many other parts of Papua New Guinea, stories about the plight of women and children are all too common. We’ve become desensitised to images and stories that would cause panic and alarm in other countries.
Martina is one of the lucky few who have made it to a health centre. Her village is beside a road and she was fortunate that relatives brought her to Saidor in time. Many others aren’t so fortunate.
“For instance, we get a radio message that says there’s a women in pain,” says Lynette Dawo [left], a community health worker. “In fact, she’s been in pain for the last three or four days and the message has just reached us because it took several days for her husband to get to a radio.”
The Raikos area of Madang shares a common border with the Morobe Province. The area is rugged and mountainous. It’s people are scattered along a thin coastal strip stretching from the Astrolabe to Wasu in Morobe. Many more live in hamlets in the precipitous hills overlooking the coast. And transportation is extremely difficult when it comes to medical emergencies.
Lynette and other workers at Saidor are dedicated health professionals. But their dedication and commitment has not always been enough to save lives because of transport difficulties.
“It is a painful place to work,” Lynette says. “Our patients are like family.”
She recalls a medivac she requested several years ago for a woman who was suffering from birth complications. She died while Lynette and other staff were desperately trying to find a boat.
“I cried for her. I went to the health office and I said: ‘Why did it take so long to find the boat. We let her die’.”
Saidor had a sea ambulance once, bBut the heath centre didn’t have the money to get it fixed after it broke down 10 years ago.
The health centre buildings are also badly in need of maintenance. Workers point out that all available resources are channelled towards saving lives. Transportation alone eats into the meagre user fees collected by the health centre.
“Sometimes we try to get the patients to pay for emergency transportation,” says Gabriel Puak [right]. “But they can’t afford it. Transport difficulties also have a major impact on the local economy and people’s ability to make money.”
Gabriel holds a bachelor’s degree in midwifery. In Saidor he has been able to reduce the number of deaths during birth. He knows he could do a lot more if only he had the money and the transport to get the medicines and staff to the many rural locations that demand attention.
“Sometimes I sit at home and wonder why I was born here and why I chose this profession,” he says. “I’ve got the skills to do the job, but how do I get to those many people who need help?”