By JINA AMBA
NATHAN Polty from Western Highlands and Maggie Karap from Jiwaka are a couple with a passion for improving the oral health of Papua New Guineans, especially children, the disadvantaged, medically compromised, aged and disabled.
Both of them are dentists and say that dental services are the least of priority areas for the PNG Government, even though this is one of the most critical services in the public health system.
To achieve their aim of improving dental health, in 2009 the couple founded an organisation called PNG School and Rural Dental Services (PNGSRDS) to serve schools and remote districts.
The PNGSRDS adopts a social enterprise business model using a public-private partnership (PPP) to “bridge the gap in dental services delivery”. It is envisioned that this concept will promote sustainability, thus ensure quality and affordable dental care is provided. This is needed especially at a time when government funding and international aid are very scarce.
Since its inception in 2009, over 15,000 oral health kits (toothbrushes, toothpaste, charts, posters, pamphlets, educational materials, classroom posters, lab coats, tooth models and soap) have been distributed at no cost to school-aged children in Mul-Baiyer district in Western Highlands.
Over 11,000 children were educated with support from Colgate Palmolive (PNG) Ltd. The couple has treated over 3,000 patients in their pilot dental clinics at Kumdi Aid Post in Western Highlands and Kisap Aid Post in North Waghi District, Jiwaka.
They volunteered their time and resources to achieve these results.
“We travelled on Fridays each weekend from Mendi to Mt Hagen on PMV buses or trucks. Back then, the highway was not sealed and road trips were bumpy and it would take a long four to five hours to reach our destination at the village with three of our children.
“We would treat about 35 to 40 patients each Saturday from as early as 7am to as late as 5pm. Patients came from all over Western Highlands and Jiwaka. Though we had no proper dental equipment, we had to improvise using ordinary office chairs which posed health risks for us and for the patients. The oral health promotion at schools in the district consisted of education and awareness on proper tooth brushing techniques, tooth flossing, mouth rinsing, betel nut chewing, oral cancer, oral disease treatments and prevention, and distribution of oral health kits,” said Polty.
It was a major boost to their efforts when PNGSRDS received a 20-foot shipping container of dental, medical and educational equipment worth close to K250,000 from Someone Who Cares in Australia.
The project started in 2015 in conjunction with Polty’s studies for a public health degree at the University of Canberra under the Australia Awards scholarship programme.
Polty said the networking with partners such as Del Cole’s Someone Who Cares, Frederick Fawke and Rotary Australia has helped secure much needed dental equipment. There are various local partners who are interested in working with PNGSRDS to develop dental services. Some of them include Marape Education Foundation at Hope Institute, Catholic Diocese of Mt Hagen, the Southern Highlands Provincial Health Authority (SHPHA), and the Hela PHA.
The donated equipment will be used to set up dental clinics in underserved communities in rural areas. At the request of the Prime Minister and Tari-Pori MP James Marape, the first model dental clinic will be set up inside the Hope Institute in his district. A dental chair and some equipment will be donated to Tari Dental Clinic.
One dental chair will be used to set up a clinic at the Kumdi Sub-Health Centre in Mul-Baiyer District of Western Highlands. Another three chairs will be used to set up dental clinics in Southern Highlands (Bui-Yebi prison health post, Ialibu District Hospital, and Nipa District Hospital).
The extra dental chairs will be used to set up additional clinics in Hela. Apart from dental equipment, most of the other medical and educational items will be donated to Tari Provincial Hospital, health centers, aid posts, schools and villages in Hela. The Southern Highlands PHA was recently a recipient of two dental chairs, 20 crutches, birthing bundles, baby blankets and hospital curtains and linens.
Polty said Prime Minister Marape, through his wife Rachael Marape’s charity and the Marape Education Foundation committed approximately K33,000 for stamp duties, storage fees and freight costs of two shipping containers from Lae to Tari in Hela. The Rotary Club of Runaway Bay supported with $5,000 (K12,700) for shipment from Brisbane to Lae.
The containers were officially opened on Sept 21, 2020 during the PM’s Independence visit to his electorate.
Marape and his wife Rachel thanked Del Cole of Someone Who Cares, Rotary Club of Runaway Bay, and ex-kiap John Hocknull and the people of Australia for the donatiom of much needed items. The PM also mentioned the importance of people helping people to make a huge difference in the lives of underserved communities.
He assured PNGSRDS of his support and added that dental services were critically needed. He promised the people of Hela affordable and quality dental care. It was great to note the charity work that PM and his wife are doing in their communities in the aftermath of the major earthquake in 2018 and continuing ethnic violence at their free times apart from running the affairs of the country, through such charitable donations.
It was timely to have had the Australian High Commissioner Jon Philip at the occasion. In his speech he emphasised the importance of the people-to-people link between Australians and Papua New Guineans. He made special mention that people-to-people links were important.
He said those who have been to Papua New Guinea have taken it back to Australia in their hearts, likewise, Papua New Guineans who have been to Australia brought Australia back in their hearts.
“When we see things like these, which is really people thinking of each other’s cultures, each other’s countries, and each other’s needs, this is what’s important. It’s what lingers in people’s hearts and minds as memories that matter the most,” said Philip.
The couple has thanked everyone who had helped them in making everything possible.
They are working tirelessly to provide oral health services to the rural population and they love what they do.