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Paiga Health Clinic

Paigatasa Health Centre Project

Then… For a long time now, in Paiga it's been the case that a woman having life-threatening complications during labour may die as her relatives try to carry her three and four hours to aid. They will first have to carry her along narrow jungle paths trodden out among the thick roots and vines of the forest. Then up a steep winding track that was once a road but is now just the memory of it, a ragged memory at that. Then along a winding path through more forest, villages and windy ridges along the spine of a high range. Finally, if they are lucky, they will bring her to Keafu where they may find a public vehicle - a battered minibus or ute - in which she will share space with a dozen or more other passengers, their coffee beans, market produce, along what once was the road but is now a deeply gullied and crevassed channel - an adult can stand in some of the gullies and not be seen from the former road level. And that's in the dry season. In the wet season there is little point in even trying to get the mother out of the village.

It's along these tracks and these roads that Denmark Oo walks his medical rounds barefoot, responding to news of someone fallen ill, or on their regular visits to vaccinate the children. Denmark's a rural health workers for Paiga and around 20 other villages, his patients numbering in the thousands. He has been trained in Australian teaching hospitals to a level where he can provide what amounts to advanced first aid and basic clinical and preventative treatment. Malaria, TB, sexually transmitted diseases, pneumonia, labour complications, broken limbs, everyday accidents -all of these are addressed with a handful of medicines, tattered texts and infinite care and love; making do, expanding the range of approved uses through years of practice.

Denmark's clinic in Paigatasa is two small rooms of wooden floor, thatched walls, and a recently erected tin roof that the village had to save for out of the pittance they get for the coffee that is their only cash crop. The clinic has a desk, a chair, half a wall to create a 'treatment' room in which there is a roughly made bench that serves as a bed and examination table. There is no electricity - kerosene lanterns have to do. There is no water - it must be carried from the creek behind the village. There is no two-way radio. On the walls he has drawn simple diagrams from some medical textbook of the male and female reproductive organs. He cannot afford to buy the glossy health posters produced in town. His shelves are few and barely adequate, so boxes of medication are piled anyhow on the floor or on his desk. Maintaining hygiene isn't easy, but he is a scrupulous as he can manage. When he travels to his patients he must carry everything he thinks he will need in an esky and a backpack.  He has a small supply of medicines and a small wage by the PNG government. He gets in-service training when a new pharmaceutical or technique is introduced. The rest is up to him.

In 2004 I visited Paiga with two friends - the first non-villagers to bother to walk into the area in decades. What we saw there of the clinic and the effort being made to maintain the people's health disturbed us profoundly. When the elders of the village asked us to see if we could do something to help them build a better clinic, we agreed to return to Australia and raise what funds we could. Over the next 3 years, I held some fundraisers, and we were able to raise funds to get Paiga started on building the new clinic.

Now...30th January, 2008 In January 2008, 3000 people from the surrounding villages, 30 odd invited guests (including the local MP who was supportive enough to take the trouble to walk in the 5 hours down the wet-season muddied track and got big ups for this), a rock band who had been hired from Goraka and carried in their whole sound system along that same muddied track, myself, Bronwen Morisson, a med student doing a short placement with me up there, and the Clinic Committee partied all day and all night as we officially opened the completed building. (Check the photo gallery Clinic Building Progress) And what a magnificant building it is; the size of a decent cattle station farmhouse in outback Oz and made from the same materials - timber and corrugated iron. There are rooms and rooms and rooms - or so it seems after the tiny shack that was the original Aid Post. Off the wide entrance verandah (with its long bench for patients and relatives to sit and rest) are two rooms - one is to be the Administrative Office, the other is the Outpatients Room (with a large dispensary and emergency equipment storage area taking up half of it). Off the verandah, also is the main door into the clinic 'wards'. First is the room that will be the office for the on-going research into kuru being conducted here by the International Medical Research organisation. Then there's the medicine's storeroom. Next to it is the materinity room and next to that a 4 bed maternity ward. And then there is the 8 bed short stay ward at the end of the corridor. All the rooms are sturdy, light and airy. Another verandah runs the full length of the wards. Outside are the first two water tanks awaiting connection into the wards and clinic rooms.

It's a stunning achievement for the community and one of which all of you who donated over the years can be enormously proud.

The land it's on was donated by one of the families in the village. It's a cleared area that once had a small mission building on it. The timber for the frame and floor was also donated by the same family. Apparently, in the early years of PNG Independence, the Government had a scheme where it gave eucalypt seedlings away to people who wanted to grow them for timber. Three trees had been planted in Paiga and remained untouched for over 20 years. Two of these were donated to clinic. Okay, I confess, I was more than a little tearful when I was told this; that the family who grew these trees wanted this clinic so much that they were happy now to have them cut down and used in the building.

As you approach the building from the road - and at the moment it's a steep but short scramble from road to the site - you pass a small handkerchief of raised flat land. This, I was proudly told, is the future helicopter landing pad. Don't laugh! Getting a chopper in here is going to be much easier, faster, and more reliable than getting an ambulance down that tortuous winding track that used to be the road into Paiga. But, ever optimistic, they do also intend to bring a short section of road down to the front of the building.

Tomorrow…

We have now begun the work of equipping the clinic. We took up a heap of medical books and posters when we went to the opening and more are on the way. We are negotiating with two non-government organisations to provide a lot of the basic hospital/clinical setting furniture and some equipment. The Australian Foundation for the Peoples of Asia and the Pacific i(AFAP) s our hoped for Australian partner as they regularly recieve unwanted stock from hospitals in New South Wales (all of quite usable, just a little old). In PNG, we are forming a partnership with the Foundation for People and Community Development and hope to piggy-back freighting the equipment from Australia to PNG whenever they get supplies from here through AFAP.

We are also looking around for other donor agencies to supply the things that AFAP doesn't have.

We want to look at further training opportunities for Danmark and for others in the community who we can train as volunteer or part time paid aids to him so the potential of the clinic is fully realised.

But we could do with more help, monetary help in particular. If you want to contribute money towards the project, check out the Donations page on this site.