It was a routine day of clinics when the YWAM primary health care team met Ruth*. Her tiny, extremely underweight body was curled up in her mother’s arms as she slept. Ruth’s sickness was evident – her face looked tired and drained and her breathing was heavy. Ruth was just five years old. One of her suspected ailments was tuberculosis (TB).
Ruth was one of 4,414 patients seen by the YWAM Medical Ships team over 11 days of outreach in Oro Province, working collaboratively with local health workers. She was also one of 106 patients with suspected TB.
Papua New Guinea has the highest rate of TB in the pacific region. TB consumes more hospital beds than any other disease. And in 2014, TB was declared as a national emergency by PNG’s Prime Minister, Honourable Peter O’Neill.
The national government is committed to have a TB-free Papua New Guinea by 2050. Provincial governments, local health providers, and NGOs have united in the vision and are making significant strides toward combatting the horrific disease.
The MV YWAM PNG’s recently built laboratory enables suspected TB cases to be diagnosed right at the patient’s village.
YWAM Medical Ships’ Research Scientist, April Harper, said that during the two-week outreach in Oro Province 64 individuals were tested for TB – 49 of those individuals were positive.
“We collected sputum samples from suspected TB patients ashore in the village each day, then examined the samples via microscopy aboard the MV YWAM PNG in the evenings.”
“What really made the model work was having Oro Province’s Disease Control Officer, Gibson Kungkene, on our team. Straight after we gave him the results, arrangements for treatment and follow up for each patient started,” said April.
Gibson has been the Oro Province Disease Control Officer for the last ten years. The majority of the people he serves live in remote inland and coastal communities.
“One of the biggest challenges we face with TB is patients not traveling to a hospital until they are in the late stages of the disease. By then, TB has spread further in their community, and unfortunately it’s often too late for them to make a recovery.”
“YWAM has been a big support in TB prevention and early detection. The ability to confirm cases right at the village is not only impacting an individual’s life, but entire communities. This partnership with YWAM has helped me see a new way of doing things. It’s lifted my hope and given me strength to continue the fight for Oro people,” said Gibson.
YWAM Medical Ships has joined the fight by helping to improve access to diagnosis and treatment in PNG’s rural areas. This includes the delivery of TB medication to rural health centres, in-service training for local health workers, health promotion, and most recently, diagnostic capabilities supported through the MV YWAM PNG’s onboard lab.
Little by little the fight against TB continues, including for little Ruth, her family and the health workers caring for her. Help see Papua New Guinea TB-free by 2050 by supporting YWAM Medical Ships lab program, make a tax deductible donation online at www.ywamships.org.au/paymentz/