One of the things that was really special and an eye opener for Debbie and I was to witness what a PNG village looks like that has good health care, education and clean running water. Karkar Island is a volcano that rises up to the clouds (or the clouds descend on the volcano whichever way you look at it – by the way, apparently in 1978 the volcano blew its lid and killed 2 volcanologists in the process). There is a ring road around the island which links all the villages lying on the fringes. Spring water is piped from the higher reaches of the side of the volcano and this is then piped to the villages. Apparently smashing opposition village’s water supply line is a routine way to show your anger about something they have done! So throughout the villages we saw taps with shower heads on them – they were used for showering, washing dishes and collecting drinking water. Lovely crystal clean water.
As we drove along the ring road we saw a number of schools – primary schools, high schools and even a college where nurses, health workers, mechanics and carpenters are trained. There are 2 hospitals, one government run and the other run by the Lutheran churches. As well as that, there are numerous Health Centres dotted around which are staffed with fully trained nurses, midwives and Healht Care workers. We were impressed with their layout and the quality of the staff who we had the pleasure of working with. Then, in the villages are first aid posts which are stocked with basic supplies and staffed by health volunteers (I think some may even have a paid health care worker). Apparently on Karkar Island there are so many Health care workers that they can’t find work! This in direct contrast to East Sepik Province where they are battling to scrape together trained staff even for the main hospital!
The biggest problem facing Karkar Island is the rising population and that is why the local member for the district has sponsored Wendy to introduce the implants as a method of family planning. The population is 80 000 at the moment and unsustainable. As I mentioned earlier one of the hospitals is run by the Lutheran church which is a predominant denomination along with Catholic. Due to this there has been quite a bit of resistence and ‘false teaching’ with regards to the implants such as them being the ‘sign of the beast’ or ‘666’. Many women were afraid to have the implant because of this scaremongering which is false doctrine anyway. We spent a lot of time allaying their fears in this regard. I took the position that God is a God of love and He doesn’t want to see women dying from having too many babies or the children suffering because of a lack of food and other basic necessities due to poverty related to a large number of children. They seemed to agree with this and boldly took the step to have an implant.
The first village we visited had a lovely first aid post. We worked in one room alongside the ‘well baby clinic’. As women came with their babies to have them weighed and vaccinated, one of the health workers would give them some education about family planning and tell them about the implants. Then, if they decided they did want one, they came to us for further counselling and consent before an implant was inserted. It was hot in the building, a plywood structure with bars on the open window frames. We looked out over another primary school and a little stream that meandered into the ocean below. It was wonderful to see so many mothers with their babies coming for check ups and vaccinations – again something that the women in remote villages of East Sepik do not have the privilege of experiencing. The nurses and health workers diligently weighed the babies, plotted their growth on charts and wrote clear notes about the general health of the children. When I spoke to the women, most of them had had their babies in the Health Centre or Hospital assisted by a skilled attendant.
During their lunch break 2 teachers from the primary school came to have an implant. They were incredibly well dressed and well spoken! Each of them had one child each and were using depo provera as contraceptive until planning another pregnancy. It struck me that education is the key to improving the health of mothers and babies because family planning does make a difference to the life of a woman.