By SAMSON KENDEMAN
A GROUNDBREAKING ceremony takes place in Wabag today to mark the start of construction of a K400 million state-of-the-art hospital.
Once up and running, this will be the fourth hospital for Enga. The others which are operational are Mambisanda, Wabag General Hospital and Sopas District Hospital.
Sopas is the oldest hospital in the province, having begun providing health care for the people in the ’60s. Known then as Sopas Adventist Hospital, it had a reputation for providing quality health care that was known not only in the country, but outside as well. Situated 8km west of Wabag, it is perched high on a ridge that overlooks the scenic valley below.
Medical staff of the hospital and students of the nursing school came from overseas as well.
An inter-tribal fight, however, forced the closure of the hospital in November 2000. Following years of negotiations and deliberations, Sopas re-opened its doors in 2013. With the re-opening of medical and health care services came the re-opening of the hospital’s nursing college that same year with 50 students enrolling.
This month, 15 students from that first batch will graduate.
While the tribal unrest has somewhat dampened the reputation of the medical establishment as safe place, the high quality of medical outreach and the high level of graduates that came out of Sopas School of Nursing, now Enga College of Nursing (Econ) still reverberates everywhere. With the high standard of medical service that came out of Sopas over the last 50 or so years, it is no wonder that the Australian government has taken an interest to develop Sopas back to the icon it once was. In fact, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has verbally committed to making Econ a model nursing college in the country.
Sopas Adventist Hospital was once a world renowned hospital and nursing college. The hospital served, and still serves, the entire population in Enga’s five districts including neighbouring Western and Southern Highlands, Hela and East Sepik provinces.
People of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church and other Christian denominations world-wide, while they had no inkling of PNG or Enga, knew about Sopas as people from other parts of the world worked there. Nursing students from all over the Pacific also went there as it was one of the best nursing colleges in the Pacific.
Many former students of Econ currently hold senior positions within the nursing fraternity in the country, a testimony to the greatness of the education there.
After closing in 2000, the institution was eventually handed over to the Enga Provincial Government (EPG). It continued to stay closed until 2006 when the then member for Wabag and former Acting Prime Minister, Sam Abal, decided to re-open it as a clinic.
During those years committees were formed and included traditional landowners, church representatives and government officials in a bid to re-open this vital service but their attempts were futile.
It was not until a local man, Dr. Lino Tom, moved to Sopas after completing his post-graduate studies in medicine in 2010. He moved into one of the run-down houses at Sopas and opened the wards for in-patient admission. Dr. Lino’s decision to move there was exclusively his own as the Enga provincial government had hired him to work at Wabag General Hospital. As a specialist surgeon, he had a better house reserved for him in town.
He, however, decided to live at Sopas, a good 20-minute drive away from Wabag. He renovated the house he lived in and even used his own money to kick start the re-opening of services there, albeit, little by little.
For nearly two years, Dr Tom wrote submissions to the provincial government for funding but nothing happened. After trying to seek help from the national government, he struck luck when the then Minister for Finance and Treasury, Don Polye, approved one of his submissions with a funding grant of K4m under the Church-Government Partnership programme.
Dr Tom formed the Sopas Restoration Committee, and sanctioned by the EPG, it comprised representatives from EPG, the church and customary land owners. The chairman was Deputy Administrator John Iso and the deputy chairman was the former President for the Western Highlands SDA Mission, Pastor Max Zachias.
And the rest is now history. Through prudent and transparent management of the funds, a lot more work was done. That set the trend for the rest of the hospital projects that followed.
More submissions were sent out and funding steadily flowed in from the government of PNG and as well as from international donor agencies such as DFAT.
Because of the high quality work that was done through transparent and prudent management of the funds, the Australian government for the first time decided to come on board in a partnership programme for the construction of two new dormitories and a dining hall for students at a cost of nearly K8 million. Enga provincial government has also invested over K10 million towards the restoration of Sopas District Hospital.
The first batch of 15 nursing students will graduate this month out of the 50 who enrolled three years ago. DFAT has verbally committed to making Econ the model nursing college in the country due to the strong leadership of the college.
While others tried and failed, it was through the unyielding faith of Dr Tom and many other Seventh Day Adventists and other Christians whose prayers were answered that Sopas is operational once again.
We salute the individuals, groups, organisations and governments who have helped restore Sopas hospital and Sopas nursing college, and in doing so, helped restore health to the people of Enga and elsewhere in PNG.
By SAMSON KENDEMAN