2019 is well underway. Australian Doctors International (ADI) Program Manager Yaman Kutlu and incoming Western Province volunteer Dr Charles Coventry have departed for PNG. This represents the start of our health outreach patrols from Kiunga. We are privileged to have alumni ADI Dr Margaret Purcell joining the trip for the initial part of Dr Charles’ posting. Dr Margaret has lived and worked in Western Province with ADI numerous times since 2002. Her knowledge is a great asset to our team’s work!
One of the emerging problems our team will face in not just Western Province, but also in New Ireland, is a disease many Australians may never have encountered before – leprosy. Below is a short report on this frightening new development in the region.
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Klara Henderson, Australian Doctors International CEO
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In the year 2000, the Government of Papua New Guinea declared leprosy eliminated. Sadly, the bacterial disease has returned to the region. Today, our volunteer doctors are out on the frontline reporting on, diagnosing and treating leprosy in New Ireland and Western Province, as pictured above.
Leprosy can take years or sometimes even decades to incubate so in reality, it never really went away in PNG. It is a terrible disease which, if not caught early, can disfigure and cause permanent disability. It is predominantly women and children who are most affected in PNG.
Leprosy is contagious and spread via sneezing, coughing, sharing cups or not washing hands. In rural PNG families live in tight knit units often in poorly ventilated housing making conditions ideal for the spread of this disease.
Leprosy treatment is not straight forward – it requires a combination of drug therapy, with WHO recommending patients visit a health clinic at least once a month over the 6 or 12 month treatment period. A person with leprosy can become non-contagious within 48 hours and completely cured after six to 12 months if they adhere to this treatment program. The problem is that restricted access to transport and communication is hampering patients’ efforts to obtain diagnosis and treatment. Additionally, while there are stockpiles of effective drugs available in the larger cities, for those living in the remote and very remote regions that ADI service, access to these life changing drugs remain limited. This means that those carrying the disease remain infectious and the leprosy bacteria continues to destroy lives causing irreversible damage such as the curled up ‘leper’s claws’, facial disfigurement and permanent physical disability.
In 2019, ADI is making an increased effort to get all those in our patrol catchment areas on the multidrug therapy they need. If you would like to support the work of ADI, working to improve the lives of people affected by leprosy in PNG, please consider making a tax deductible donation today.
Australian Doctors International (ADI) receives support from the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).
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