Making a difference in Papua New Guinea

nayana-and-team

Dr. Nayana Parange (at centre with scarf) with PNG team and trainees, displaying their certificates (image courtesy of Dr. N Parange for ISUOG Outreach/ASUM)

ISUOG Outreach Volunteer, Dr Nayana Parange has recently led the Papua New Guinea Outreach mission in October, conducted in partnership with the Australasian Society of Ultrasound in Medicine (ASUM). In this blog, she recounts her experience on the field and her impressions with the local dynamics.

Papua New Guinea – the land of striking natural beauty with fascinating tribal customs. It is also one of the toughest places in the world to become a mother.  With great excitement, I was coming back to Papua New Guinea (PNG) for my fifth annual visit for another intensive workshop, but this time with an enthusiastic team. The team comprised of Dr Sujatha Thomas from Darwin, Dr Kris Barnden from Tasmania, Dr Alice Robinson from Melbourne and I from Adelaide, and all of us arrived in Port Moresby on Saturday, 22nd October 2016.

Our intensive workshop commenced on Sunday morning, and Prof Glen Mola, an Australian-trained Obstetrician/Gynecologist, introduced us to the trainees, all of whom were doctors training in OB/GYN, as well as rural and remote emergency medicine. The trainees were eager to start training on a Sunday morning, full of hope and keen to learn basic techniques to use ultrasound to help their patients.

We started off the workshop with a quiz to establish the baseline knowledge of the cohort. This enabled us to plan and focus efforts on aspects of hands-on training, such as the ISUOG “six-step” method  of evaluation. As the workshop progressed, we also got several opportunities to interact with medical students, midwives and consultants, and we were able to conduct several presentations for the whole department as well.

It is hard to envisage the reality of pregnant women in PNG. Nearly 15,000 women deliver in Port Moresby General Hospital, and women able to find their way to the hospital are some of the more fortunate ones. Maternal and perinatal mortality is high with 88-98% of these deaths being preventable. Extreme poverty, remote geographic location, mountainous topography leading to inaccessibility of health services, sociocultural factors and most importantly, inaccessible and ill-equipped health centres with a shortage of skilled professionals have contributed to the poor maternal mortality rate in the country.

We came across a wide range of pathology and I was deeply moved by the stoicism displayed by the women, especially when given bad news. One such incident that has been indelibly imprinted in my memory, is where Sujatha and Alice scanned a lady at around 14-16 weeks of amenorrhoea, and diagnosed an abdominal ectopic pregnancy of nearly 16 weeks gestation. We then got to know later that she could be operated upon, in a timely manner, where although she lost three litres of blood, she recovered from the surgery. At least one life saved because of ultrasound!

Common causes of maternal death in PNG include sepsis, low lying placenta leading to postpartum haemorrhage, ectopic pregnancies leading to catastrophic bleeds. Fetal and neonatal deaths here are common because of growth restriction and prematurity. A vast majority of these problems can be recognised on ultrasound, and most often, interventions can be applied to prevent mortality and morbidity, but there is a shortage of skilled personnel to diagnose these problems to be able to manage them effectively.  The dedication of the health professionals though, often overworked and under resourced, is inspiring. Despite the insurmountable challenges, as Prof Glen Mola says, there are many people doing amazing things within the given constraints and making a difference in so many lives through sheer will and personality. “We can’t give up”, he often says.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the effort and dedication of the trainee doctors to master the content as much as possible within a short duration. All of them were quite proficient by the end of the training program, and were able to obtain anatomical landmarks and measurements correctly, and confidently perform the six step approach. Quiz scores improved from a 20 percent average to 90%!  A job well done!

Thank you ASUM, ISUOG and our wonderful outreach team! I feel very grateful and privileged to have been able to participate and play a role in PNG ultrasound outreach. We have a long road ahead of us, and the path is not easy, but onwards and upwards from here. Together, hopefully, we will be able to make a difference.

 

“Individually we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean” –  Ryonosuke Satoro.

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