Kikori is a settlement in Papua New Guinea; it lies in the delta of the Kikori River at the head of the Gulf of Papua. As the crow flies it is 245miles from the Capital, Port Moresby. The hospital has 100 beds and serves a wide area around the gulf, given that the next nearest hospital is in the Capital. The medical staff consist of six nurses, about 20 community health workers, occasional visiting medics on short term stints and a British Doctor, Beth Lewis, who has been there for four years.
In addition to looking after all the in-patients this amazing medical team run clinics at the hospital and do outreach visits to villages up-river, where they seeks out possible TB cases, a disease that is endemic there and very common. Facilities are minimal; there is ‘bedside’ ultrasound, AFB staining, and microscopy for TB, very limited bedside blood testing (Glucose, Hb, HIV, Malaria, hep B). Microscopes are available but stains and expertise are limited. It would do some current doctors good to have to manage without X-rays or any other scans, let alone the limited selection of blood tests!
If a patient really does need to have scans of any description, specialist services, or even anything more than basic blood tests, the only option is to consider transfer to Port Moresby. Getting there is 12-16 hours by dinghy through the rivers then across open sea to Kerema the provincial capital. It’s a very dangerous journey where the currents meet at the mouth of the big rivers. In the wet season lives are lost every year by people making the journey. But it is the only real way out… then from Kerema to Moresby it’s another 12+ hours by truck on the road. The vast majority of the population they serve are subsistence farmers who may just get a little income from marketing, but the journey to Moresby costs more than most make in a year.
Another challenge for medics visiting anywhere overseas is language. In this area of PNG there are eight main languages that they are confronted with. English, Pidgin and Moto are the three common ‘trade’ languages plus five widely spoken local tribal languages, but they have patients from at least another 10 language areas who use the hospital. Thankfully, most people speak one of the three main languages, but when they’re from further afield they may not. With some patients the clinical history can get a bit muddled as its been translated from their language via another language into Pidgin, a vague and imprecise language for trying to convey concise observations!
At the end of April this year I had an email from Beth to say that their ‘dinghy had died’. It had been repaired many times but had been working so hard that the motor ‘gave up the ghost’. Without it all of the TB outreach work came to a complete standstill as, living in the delta, without a boat she and her team could not get to any of the villages to do TB clinics/ follow ups/ awareness or to bring patients to hospital for treatment. Kikori has one of the highest TB rates in the world, and 70% of the 100 hospital beds were filled with TB patients. Hence the importance of the outreach clinics to try and stem the spread of TB in the area.
Beth Lewis is a very self-effacing young lady, but deeply committed to her work with the locals. The demise of their dinghy came as a cruel blow to her, her team and the work they all do.
So, one of Beth’s friends set up a ‘crowd funding’ page to raise the money for a new outboard engine. The funding target was £7,000. After just 10 days that target had been exceeded; the exercise produced £7,025 on ‘Gogetfunding’ plus £2,500 from other sources including Beth’s Church back in the UK.
Shortly after, she wrote to say “the most huge THANK YOU for making our dream of a dinghy to continue Kikori’s TB work a reality”.
She felt that the response to the appeal had been incredible, and the team were very excited to be able to plan the purchase of their new motor. “What is most incredible is that you and others like you- people that I’ve never actually met personally – believe in this enough to support us in this way”.
Given that the funds had exceeded the amount required for the engine they were also able to replace the fibreglass dinghy with a bigger one and set aside funds to pay their operators/ drivers for their work on TB outreach patrols as nationwide budget cuts for health facilities meant that their workmen, who also function as drivers, had had their hours halved so only employed 18 hours/ week, but the TB trips are often 2-3 days. What’s left over has been allocated for upkeep and maintenance, and some for the TB programme which may include extra “ambulance” trips.
In early August the 23ft fibreglass dinghy and a 40HP Yamaha outboard arrived on a cargo boat from Port Moresby. “Hugest big thanks from all of us in Kikori for helping us to continue to see people live well and healthy in this little corner of the swamp here!”
The remarkable team at Kikori work for a wide community with the barest of resources; they truly deserve our highest regards.
The Swinfen Charitable Trust is honoured to have been able to help in 57 cases referred from Kikori by Beth Lewis in just over 18 months.