By OGIA MIAMEL
Cervical cancer is preventable yet thousands of Papua New Guinean women succumb to it, often leaving behind their children and loved ones.
Apart from the mainstream health services, private clinics and non-government organisation efforts to fight the dreaded illness, a retired nurse has decided to dedicate her retired life to doing her part in a small way to save her fellow Papua New Guineans.
“My greatest passion is to make sure women do not die from cervical cancer because it is the most preventable cancer of all cancers,,” says Sr Hellen Hukula, owner of the Well Women Clinic in Port Moresby.
That was the motivation that drove Hukula to start a women’s clinic after retiring from nursing.
After 30 years of serving as a nurse in hospitals and health centres, the mother of six and grandmother of nine from Tuvi village in East Sepik is determined to see women access information and service to prevent deaths from cervix cancer.
Hukula had worked in the gynaecology section of the Port Moresby General Hospital (PMGH) for 19 years, an experience that has continued to remain beneficial for womenfolk in this country.
After seeing the need to do something away from routine, Hukula started the Well Women Clinic on July 11, 2011.
The clinic conducts Pap smear tests, checks blood pressure, weight, blood sugar, treats sexually transmitted infections, does pregnancy tests, breast cancer checks, family planning ovulation and do referrals to PMGH.
The clinic has three staff – Hukula, a clerk and a trained paediatric nurse.
It is located at Waigani, just behind Anglicare, and shares the building with the Wagambie Lawyers Law firm.
“I can’t see myself sitting in the house doing nothing and seeing the newspaper and reading about women dying from cervix cancer. We have to continue work,” she said.
Since 2011, organisations and individuals helped her establish the clinic – a much-needed service to women.
The PNG Cancer Foundation (PNGCF) use her service as a clinician when they are doing awareness exercise.
Hukula has been using her experience to deliver key messages to help women to get a Pap test to realise the status of their cervix.
A Pap smear test or pap test is done by scraping off the cells at the opening of the vagina and checking them under a microscope to detect cancer cells and abnormalities so early treatment can start.
Hukula normally collects all the tests and sends them to Sydney for testing.
She then informs her clients of their results.
For serious cases, she calls the client in for counselling and referral to PMGH for treatment.
“You know, that’s the best thing. Our job is not just the Pap smear but we’ve got to make sure that you come back and we talk to you. Counselling is very important,” Hukula said.
Apart from PNGCF, she received support from Wagambie Lawyers, AUSAID, National Planning and Monitoring Department, Global Construction, Australia PNG Alumni and National Airport Corporation.
In 2014, Hukula was offered a scholarship by the New Zealand government.
She underwent four weeks of intensive training on Pap smear testing competency skills in Auckland.
After the training, her confidence was boosted to keep doing what she had been doing.
“They taught me so many things, how to recognise the symptoms, how to recognise women with cervical cancer, read results and send them off – those kind of things.
“This is one of the job I value and I will continue to help women fight this illness,” Hukula said.
From Hukula’s experience of doing awareness on cervical cancer and Pap tests, the work is not a one-person job.
It needs a lot of people who can advocate on services and information about prevention and treatment availability.
By OGIA MIAMEL