Seasoned RFDS flight nurses Fiona and Fran are used to delivering primary health care to remote and regional communities across Western Australia where conditions are tough and resources limited.
But as they disembarked their boats and were warmly welcomed by Papa New Guinea (PNG) locals, they soon came to realise they were dealing with a whole different ball game.
Volunteering their services as part of a No Roads Expeditions clinical outreach program in May this year, the pair, along with other medical professionals, assessed and treated the residents of remote coastal villages in Oro Provence, home of the Kokoda Track.
As they mingled with the locals, the No Roads Expeditions group realised that medical resources in the villages were scarce and locals were unable to access health care due to geographical barriers.
Gathering their patients under a make-shift waiting room, a big shady tree, the group treated patients for a variety of complex medical conditions in a consulting room that took the shape of an open-air hut overlooking the ocean.
The types of conditions treated included; malaria, tuberculosis, machete wounds, tropical ulcers, immunisations, skin conditions, fractures, ear syringing, STIs, pneumonia, arthritic conditions and viral illnesses.
Fiona said the aim of the No Roads Expedition is to educate and empower village health workers in creating sustainable health care for PNG communities.
“The only form of transport for these villagers is by water, either by motor boat or canoe,” she said.
“The nearest health clinic can be inaccessible during storms or rough seas. We heard how one woman paddled for six hours one way to access the clinic.
“While we were there, we educated village birth attendants and village health volunteers so they could provide ongoing health care and it made for a collaborative working and learning environment.”
Fiona said a major challenge for the crew was to treat and diagnose using in-country supplies and diagnostic tools.
“On our trip, malaria outbreaks had occurred in many of the communities that we visited,” she said. “Unfortunately supply of malaria kits and malaria treatment wasn’t always available, leading to frustration for us and the locals.
“The local clinic has very limited diagnostic tools and the closest hospital has limited services. Unfortunately many families cannot afford the cost of travel and so many don’t receive treatment that can be life-saving.
“Overall, this was a rewarding experience which I recommend for anyone with a good level of fitness, a sense of adventure and a willingness to expand their knowledge and work outside their comfort zone.”