PNG 2018

Back to PNG in the middle of a long stretch away from home!

It’s been too long…we were last there in 2016.

The election pretty much stopped everything for a year. Nothing happens during the election cycle since everyone is preoccupied in manipulating the system for their own benefit. And attacking anyone who is doing the same thing for another candidate. Kind of like here – except that they use weapons in PNG.

We decided to take a real vacation and spent 2 weeks bicycling with the Bicycle Adventure Club in Hokkaido, Japan followed by a week in Tokyo. As is our wont we did manage to schedule a typhoon and earthquake at the same time. But Japan works brilliantly, other than a couple of ryokan changes of venue and limited electricity for 2 days it was fine. People were amazingly helpful and friendly. We got to see Red Crowned cranes and Blakiston’s fish owls. Ofuros are the best thing ever after an 80 mile day. And as for food…we gained weight despite riding 500 miles. Freshest uni ever.

Tokyo – POM and two weeks In PNG

Project C.U.R.E. is a US NGO that takes donated medical equipment, refurbishes it if necessary, and ships it to Low Income Countries. We are site reviewers for them and work through the PNG Tribal Foundation

We visited six health care facilities:

Kandep which was a hospital, but has functioned only as an outpatient clinic for 20 years. The facility has been completely rebuilt recently and has authorization and funding for 91 staff including 2 physicians and a full complement of nurses.

Kungumanda which is currently staffed with 1 full time, 1 part time RN and 1 full time CHW. MOH plans to expand to at least 6 total staff. They teach CHW’s.

Laiagam which is intended to function as a level 4 district hospital and has been approved for 90+ new staff. Unfortunately, Laiagam is located in an area with chronic / intermittent tribal fighting. It has been functioning primarily as an outpatient clinic and it has already proved difficult to hire and maintain staff.

Paiam which was run by a consortium funded by the local gold mine. Two years ago “things fell apart” and the hospital was mothballed. Most of the facility is intact (including two full operating theaters) but some more portable items disappeared when the expat Filipino staff left. Our friend and local physician Solomon is now in charge and trying to get it up and running again.

Sopas which is a major surgical facility and nursing school.

Yampu a small yet very busy maternity hospital and HIV clinic.

All these facilities have major needs and big deficits and the deficits often interlock. If you don’t have operative capability you can’t recruit a surgeon and if you can’t recruit a surgeon you can’t justify getting equipment for the operating theater!

Each visit took a full day and we got held up by the usual “raskols” who put logs across the road and demanded a fee to allow passage through their tribal land. We even had to pass through a tribal fighting zone (several times.) Driving a mile with hundreds of unhappy men carrying machetes on each side of the road is interesting. Of course a maritime version of blocking traffic with logs is how Denmark financed itself in the middle-ages and tribal fights are generally not a big deal if you are not in the involved tribes…We never really felt at risk. It’s perhaps like a combo of Robin Hood and the Pennsylvania turnpike.

Travel is slow and not very comfortable esp. in the back of the 4×4. Mark thinks he shrunk an inch or so!

But frankly it was better than the hours spent writing up our reports for Project Cure.

After PNG we flew to Chile, went birding in the Atacama Desert and the Andes, and worked on a Lindblad/National Geographic cruise down the coast, rounding Cape Horn and landing at Staten Island then Ushuaia in Argentina. Sixteen flights in all, starting and ending in Albuquerque!

A month after our trip the Tribal Foundation staff revisited some of the same places in PNG with a group of top administrators and physicians from Children’s Hospital Colorado. The first patient they saw at Yampu was a woman who had severe bleeding after delivery (PPH) the previous day and the nun/midwives applied our “Mama Saver” Ball & Binder. Sister Dorota said “and we saved the Mama and she’s fine”.


It makes shrinking an inch very worthwhile.

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