BY JASON DOM
The largest of the Trobriand Islands in Milne Bay, Kiriwina, is relatively flat with uplifted coral reefsstretchingalong the eastern shore.
The other islands that make up the Trobriands areKaileuna, Vakuta and Kitava.
Since most of the villagers are subsistence farmers they rely on their crops of yam, sweet potatoes, taro and cassava, which arecultivatedin the central plain which is bisected with footpaths and a few dirt roads.
The island has an area of 290.5 square kilometers and most of the 12,000 people who of theTrobriands live on Kiriwina and speak theKilivila language and English but not muchTokPisin.
Kiriwina has about60 villages and like all other islands in the group the climate is hot and humid throughout the year with frequent rainfall.
The local people there live in traditional settlements and participate in the regional circuit of exchange called Kula, sailing to visit trade partners on seagoing canoes.
They use yams as currency, and consider them a sign of wealth and power. Western visitors will often buy items from them using money.
Although an understanding of reproduction and modern medicine is widespread in Trobriand society, their traditional beliefs have been remarkably resilient.
However, one of the many diseaseson the Island is malaria. The Milne Bay provincial health office is concerned that30 percent of the islands’ population wasinfected with malaria in 2015.
These statistics, together with those of other provinces like New Ireland, East Sepik and West Sepik, were brought to the attention of the Department of Health.
In 2017, the department’smalaria programme manager, Dr Leo Makita decided to take on board Kiriwini Island for the start of a malaria treatmentpilot project after several bids by other affected provinces.
“The National Government and the Department of Health do have an international obligation to eliminate malaria by 2030; our regional goal is to start in outbreak provinces.Given the fact that Milne Bay has a track record of implementing a number of successful projects which is why we chose it but after this we will certainly move to other provinces,” Makita said.
Meanwhile, in early January this year, a memorandum of understanding was signed between China’s Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine and Guangdong New South Group Corporation Ltd with the PNG Department of Health for a pilot project of malaria mass drug administration (MDA) onKiriwinaIsland.
A research assistant from the Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine Dr Li Guo Ming was spearheading the project with his four colleagues and have conducted the three rounds of MDA from March to April.
They have engaged local volunteers and the district health workers to distribute a drug called Artequick,a fourth generation drug similar to the “Second Line Medic” but administered within two days and works very quick to fight the malaria parasites.
“Artiquick stops the infection rate from mosquitoes to transfer bacteria from one person to another and maintain a frontline defence in a person’s blood cells within three months, so if more people are treated there will be zero transfer of virus in the long run.
“The pilot project was rolled out onthree islands so far and that includes the LosuiaIsland, KitavaIsland and OmarakanaIsland.
“Before the MDA, 18 percent of the population in that district were affected with malaria whileon one of the islands called Mnuwatait was 33 percent,” Li said.
He said because the drug works for hours,people were advisedto eat full meals before taking it.The recommended dosage for different age groups are:
- From 6 months to 24 months- half tablet;
- From 25 months to six years – three quartersof tablet
- From seven to 10 years -full tablet
- From 11-15 years – one and halftablets, and
- From 16 years and above -2 tablets.
Kiriwina public health director, Dr Jacob Morewaya said they have proven that the 30 percent infection rate on the island infected was reduced to 0.01 percent after the third MDA and they believed that Artiquickwas the way forward to stop the transmission of malaria parasites.
“We have collected 1,500 blood samples after the mass drug administration, using the Rapid diagnostic Test (RDT) we confirmed three positive cases because they did not take the drugs; otherwise all were negative.
“Some villages were hard to get to so we used local volunteers to assist in the treatment and circulation of drugs,” Morewaya said.
A volunteer on Kaduwaga Island, Merian Skita said, “We don’t want people to get side effects just by not eating enough before taking the drugs, therefore my colleague Mike Mainorobu and I advise our localpeople to eat well before taking the drug.
“So far there were solid improvements on the island without any complaints of its side effects.This has helped the locals a lot to improve their daily activities after taking the drugs, back ache problems are also cured,” Skita said.
The head teacher of KavatariaElementary School in Losuia, Betty Chris said,“We have 135 students and four teachers; before students normally have hot body temperatures and teachers usually rush them to hospital. I have noticed that all the students are doing well after they took this drug.”
Chris said the common sicknesses in the school were diarrhea,cough and tummy aches because of no proper toilets and water systems.Students use the sea as a toilet and drink rain water and diseases are easily spread that way but after the rounds of MDA, there has been no malaria case recently.
The local people at Kiriwina are very pleased with work carried out by the Chinese team and want to acknowledge their work.Because they have only the annualyam festival, they want to also celebrate the Fast Elimination of Malaria by Source Eradication (FEMSE) as another festival to remember the Chinese doctors who came and helped them eliminate malaria.
Meanwhile, Li said theFEMSEteam combined with Guangdong New South Group Corporation Ltd has come from China with the new drug Artiquick to remove the malaria parasites.
Li explained thatArtiquick has been proven by Chinese communities and its use has resulted in zero-infection in 2017.
The Chinese have used it in the Comoros Islands in Africaand now introduced it to Papua New Guinea.
“Our purpose is to eliminate the spread of malaria parasites in the country by 2030,” Li said.