February and early March 2020 was an exciting time for the ADI team in West New Britain (WNB). After months of planning, our first doctor arrived in the province, Dr Charlene James. She spent her few days having meeting members of the Provincial Health Authority (PHA) before settling in with our patrol team to discuss our first patrol out to the southern coastline.
Kandrian was to be our first stop and we discussed together our plan to fly down by helicopter to the main Health Centre. Joining the team were local PHA representatives; Hellen Baule (Midwife) and Mark Gori (Logistics) alongside myself (Jack, the Program Manager for WNB), Dr Charlene James and Anne Paulsen, our resident media and communications officer. The benefit of flying directly to these remote health centres is enormous. Along with being able to stop along the way to conduct scoping activities and community awareness, ADI is capable of delivering important vaccines to other remote locations along the way that would otherwise miss out due to a lack of cold chain transportation.
Having stopped in Aka, a hillside village en route to Kandrian, to conduct our facilities reporting and spread community awareness about the COVID-19 pandemic currently afflicting more developed parts of our globe, we arrived in Kandrian – a small village and health centre where we lived with local health staff. The team in Kandrian were fantastic and, after erecting a makeshift ‘clinic’ under a mango tree, ADI managed to see over 150 patients in just one day!
Our next stop was the village of Wako. 18 months ago Wako received a brand-new health facility and we were excited to see it in action. The boat ride there was around an hour on a relatively calm sea and upon arrival we were met by the local councilors and escorted up an incredibly steep and muddy trail to the plateau where the facility was located. Looking back and seeing a trail of Wako residents carrying our equipment up what can only be described as a ‘goat track’ will stay in my mind as a very special highlight of our time in the village. Our Clinical work continued well in the afternoon.
The next morning we packed up again and set out for Pililo health centre, located on an island just half an hour from Wako. Thankfully the sea was calm again and we were able to enjoy looking out over the jungle upon the reef to our right and the seemingly endless Solomon Sea to our left. Pililo was a unique place, perched high on a hill overlooking the sea. The health centre here was run by the catholic church. The only way villagers could access other health services was by boat. So if they have no fuel, there could be no further treatment.
We stayed in Pililo overnight and booked our helicopter to meet us the next morning, just after the schools had gone back to class. Standing out on the paddock we could hear the approaching helicopter… but then we also began to hear other noises. The sound of many feet running towards us! Turning around we saw all the kids running out of school laughing and giggling to greet the ‘balus’ (Tok Pisin for basically anything in the air). It seemed that school was out for the day – and the teachers weren’t too happy. However as ADI managed to deliver 17 boxes of essential medicines, I think the nursing staff were and we left of very good terms with the community of Pililo and promises to return.
Kindest regards from the potholed roads of West New Britain