By ZEDAIAH KANAU
THE act of selflessness is doing something without expecting anything in return. It is a rare trait indeed in today’s society.
This is the journey of one young man who grew up in one of the many shanties of Port Moresby. With the little he and his family had, but fuelled by personal hardship and struggle, he has turned out to be a medical professional and is giving back to the less fortunate.
Roger Moko, 24, from a parentage of Gulf and Chimbu, is all too familiar with not having much to eat or to spend and living with extended families while growing up.
He was raised up in the inner settlements of Erima by a single mother and her family.
Roger did all his primary schooling at St Peter Channel Primary School in Erima from 2002 to 2009 and completed secondary education at Dela Salle Secondary School, Bomana (from 2010 to 2013). He was streamed to the science strand in Grades 11 and 12.
Coming from a settlement background did not stop Roger from excelling in his studies. He got accepted to do Science Foundation at the University of PNG on a government scholarship in 2014.
From there, his excellent grades earned him a placing at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences at Taurama. He majored in Medical Laboratory Science and graduated on April 20, 2018.
Roger did his residency at the Port Moresby General Hospital that year and completed his tenure in February 2019.
After his residency and being registered under the Medical Board of PNG, he applied for employment in areas in which his skills would be of use, especially hospital settings.
He did a couple of interviews but was not contacted later on, however he was patient and kept on trying.
He finally got an opportunity in April 2019 and started working as a laboratory technician for the Rainbow Medical Centre (RMC) in Port Moresby.
“I was the only one there and that had made me gain confidence and experience in many procedures. I also did some procedures I didn’t do when doing residency and my practice there made me learn a lot and I thank the team and management for the opportunity,” Roger said.
He was with RMC for six months and in October, was selected among his colleagues after an interview and test to work with Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in Gulf at the Kerema Hospital under the tuberculosis (TB) project.
“Coming from Gulf and having family there made me want to go back and work there to give back to my people and to also remember my grandfather who is from there,” he said.
What is the nature of his work?
“It is essential to know that I am a medical laboratory scientist. So what we do is we’re mostly about detection and diagnostics. We diagnose or we confirm the diagnosis of a doctor.
“A doctor comes up with a diagnosis of a patient saying that he or she has a disease, based on the signs, symptoms and history. So to confirm the diagnosis, they send the patient’s samples to the lab which includes blood, sputum, urine, faeces or other tissues for us to test.
“We test to confirm (their diagnosis) and to see if the disease is spreading or not. We also test to check if the right medicine can be given to the patients or if the patient is reacting to the medicine or not.
“We also monitor the patient’s response to the medications by checking their blood and other samples that need to be checked also.
“Generally, we test samples and give out results and treatment recommendations, also making sure that we practice quality and safety in the lab always.”
Roger says that the most common misconception (he feels) about those working in the medical field especially in PNG, is that people don’t know about the different roles of medical practitioners.
He says people typically assume that once you go through medical school or work at a hospital or clinic then you’re a doctor who is trained and licensed to practice on anyone who is sick or injured.
That may be true but he says medical practitioners vary in their professions.
“Some may be physicians, some may be urologist or some may be dentists. Only people who are licensed in their fields may treat patients. You cannot give out prescriptions at will if you’re not licensed or specialised in a field.
“We carry out tests on appropriate samples or specimens to confirm diagnoses or rule out other possible disease causes and this is mostly done in a laboratory setting with quality and safety. We’re mostly laboratory professionals.
“Of course I’m a medical person and can give advice on disease state, diagnosis, treatment and management but as I mentioned, the medical field is broad and there are doctors and specialists who are specifically trained and licensed and are the right persons to go to initially.”
What is in a medical scientists’ laboratory?
“What I love about my work is when you work in a lab, there are different fields and different sections. In a typical hospital lab setting, you have the haematology section, where you study the blood and check all the blood cells, blood components and diseases that are involved with the blood. You get to study them and see the different types of blood and blood components and check to confirm diagnosis.
“Then you have the biochemistry section, which is also to do with the blood and checking the organ systems. You check their functions and the status of the organ system based on the blood results.
“For instance, we can do a liver function test to check the function of the liver, a kidney function test to check for the kidneys. There is microbiology where you study microorganisms and also test for the right medication or treatment monitoring.
“There’s also the blood bank where the donated blood is kept and checked for blood type, screened for any diseases and then made into blood products and finally testing is carried for compatibility before transfusion. Finally in the histology section, tissues or biopsy specimens are received and processed for microscopic anatomy examination of biological tissues.
“We get to test and confirm causative agents or identify abnormalities of the disease state and so what I love about my job is that the in-depth technical aspect of it.
“If someone is diagnosed with malaria, that person won’t see the actual parasite that causes malaria or if it is TB then that person won’t see the actual bacteria that is causing TB but for us in the lab, we do see those malaria parasites and TB bacteria.”
Medecins Sans Frontieres helping rural populace in Gulf
Roger is currently engaged with Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) sometimes rendered in English as Doctors without Borders. MSF is an international humanitarian organisation (NGO) of French origin which provides emergency humanitarian help to people during crisis.
MSF is active in over 60 countries and has been in Gulf since 2014, providing TB services to the people.
“They (MSF) are here in Gulf trying to minimise that (TB) burden by helping people to have access to quality early diagnosis, effective patient treatment management and maintaining good health services.
“We try to include all people regardless of age, gender or nationality. So what I’m doing here is helping people to combat the increase of TB in the province.
“I’m carrying out testing for TB diagnosis and also blood tests to check if a patient is doing well with their medications.
“The main thing is we collect the sputum (mucus) and I check it for the TB bacteria and if it is there then we start the patient on treatment and monitor the patient.
“Lately, we’ve been finding drug-resistant TB which cannot be treated with the normal first-line drugs and this is a major concern as we do not want more of that.
“TB is a big problem in Gulf so my work here with MSF is diagnosing and treating patients, and trying to lower cases of TB and prevent it spreading, with early diagnosis and treatment.
“When patients come and I test them (for TB) and if they’re positive, we start them on treatment as soon as possible and so they won’t effectively get to spread it to other people. The main one is TB emitting from cough, pulmonary TB which mainly affects the lungs.
“This TB is more deadly and contagious than the others because when you cough (it out), you spread it, so the earlier you’re diagnosed and put on treatment the better you are in not spreading TB.
“Due to the geographical location, it’s very hard for people here to have access to medical services so MSF is also here helping them. MSF is doing so by going directly to them and getting them to come and do testing through awareness and also tracing patients for follow-up and monitoring.
“MSF pays people (treatment supporters) to look out, help and make sure patients get their medication. MSF also provides travel fares for people to monitor them which include paying for their food to take with their medication.”
“My single parent and grandparents are the main people I have been with through all my hard work and I would like to dedicate my achievements so far to them.
“I was still in school when I lost my grandfather and my mum and was doing my training (residency) when my grandmother passed on. It is hard for me now to give back to them as I feel they deserve every success with me,” he said.
Roger also appreciates his extended family in Erima (Port Moresby) and Kuk village in Western Highlands who have been with him through everything.
“I will always dedicate everything back to them, and always acknowledging and putting God first while doing so.
“Coming from a tough background with just enough to carry on each day has made me appreciate all the small things in life and value each person and always want to be different and become better from my past.
“This has made me think of education as my only way out and that has gotten me as far as I am now and I am proud of myself and will still do my best to achieve more.
“I just want my story to inspire people and to at least make someone out there feel that in whatever situation they’re in there’s always a way out and there is always hope.”