Medical symposium shows our shortcomings


IF one were to condense the large volume of information presented at the 53rd medical symposium underway in Port Moresby this week, it would all point to serious existing health problems.
But thankfully, there are also workable solutions to some of these health issues, as raised by experts in their presentations at the summit.
No doubt the symposium all throughout the past half century had led to some achievements in the health sector, most of which the people would have learnt to appreciate fully.
And unless we as a country – individuals, families, communities and the government – were prepared to take on some of the valuable recommendations to heart, the important symposium would turn out to be just another talkfest.
Following the discussions this week – through the various media reports – the public would realise that Papua New Guinea still faced many health challenges. Some of these would require serious interventions on the part of government and other partners in some areas, or innovation and flexibility in others.
One of the discussions many rural electorates in the country would be interested in was on the delivery of health services in their areas.
There was renewed calls for more medical officers, doctors especially, to serve in rural district hospitals and health centres.
Not only that, but senior doctors and nurses and allied health workers have been urged to pass on their experience and skills to their juniors so that healthcare services to the communities can be maintained at reasonably high standards.
It would be great to have at least one doctor at every district hospital or sub district health
centre, but the realities on the ground are not so rosy.
For the next few years there will still be a huge shortage of doctors, given the highly disproportionate ratio of doctors to our estimated population of eight million.
Besides, the amenities in rural districts are not particularly attractive to hold down well-trained and experienced doctors.
Basic services for their own comfort as well as to help them do their job well and with satisfaction such as running water and reliable electricity and communication are not there at district centres.
A few church-run health facilities in rural areas have been a lot more successful than government-owned facilities in sourcing and retaining doctors. This may be due partly to better support in terms of resourcing their medical professionals and also because such professionals are quite prepared to meet the challenges which come with their job, and make sacrifices.
Challenges in such rural settings also call for medical officers to adopt new skills to meet present needs, as East Sepik Provincial Health Authority director Dr Trevor Kelebi pointed out during the symposium.
In making do with whatever resources they have in critical situations, rural health facilities can also run the risk of breaching national health standards set by the government.  But such standards should not be so high as to make it too expensive for them to be achieved, he warned.
One of the important announcements from the government during the medical symposium was the plan to make the medical school of the University of PNG a standalone university.
Given the current state of state-run universities in the country, there would obviously be reservations about how well the medical school would do on its own.
There would be a great deal of expectation from a new autonomous training facility to address the chronic shortage of medical professionals. But only through consistent funding commitment by the government can it live up to such expectations.
Reports, presentations, findings and commitments have been made at the medical symposium and all who attended have gone home with new ideas to improve the health indicators of the country.
It is hoped that some of the more critical recommendations would not be forgotten but followed through with planning, funding allocation and implementation.

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