Health system failing people

Editorial, Normal

The National,Wednesday18 January 2012

YESTERDAY, The National bade farewell to one of its most esteemed employees Yehiura Hreihwazi, who passed away nine days earlier from a heart attack at the Port Moresby General Hospital.
His death was greeted with shock and dismay by his colleagues and fellow journalists in the media because Yehi, like many professionals in Papua New Guinea, was very much still in his prime and at 49 the jovial and dedicated man from Yangoru in East Sepik still had a great deal to offer.
The untimely nature of his death is something that grates many who knew and worked him over a career that spanned nearly three decades. The National’s editor-in-chief Frank Senge Kolma, who has known Yehi for most of that time, said the nation’s public health system had to shoulder a great deal of the blame for the premature deaths of many – not just Yehi – skilled and educated people in the workforce. Despite being a committed newshound and a man prone to “burning the candle at both ends” in his work, Kolma opined that individuals like Yehi deserved a higher standard of medical care which was non-existent on Jan 8, 2012.
“Yehi escaped the clutches of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army on a number of occasions and reported on that conflict in outstanding fashion. He lived and worked late nights in Port Moresby and Lae, arguably among the most dangerous cities in the world.
“Through his work, he made many enemies. Yet, Yehi survived all of that immediate and present danger.
“When he was finally taken from us in the early hours of last Sunday, Jan 8, he surrendered his life on a bed in PNG’s biggest hospital, with doctors and nurses trying to revive his heart when he was already brain dead.
“He knew he needed attention.
“He spent most of Saturday with his family trying to find expert help. He did not find it. And, so, he returned home and tried to rest but, in the end, the process set off in his body was too much. He died.”
Kolma said Yehi’s case served to only highlight yet again the inadequacies inherent in our health care which was causing the decimation of a good portion of the working population. That particular segment of society’s mature but still young and productive workers who fall into the middle age bracket between 45 and 55.
Late last year, another of the country’s pioneering journalists and former The National employee as well as sports personality Jack Metta, 60, died – again from a failing heart.
There have been many instances of men and women dying from treatable and avoidable diseases. Non-communicable diseases or lifestyle diseases, as Health Minister Jamie Maxtone-Graham has often stated in his column in the Post-Courier, is what is at the heart of the problem.
To that end, Maxtone-Graham, who is currently attending a World Health Organisation executive meeting in Switzerland, has admitted candidly that PNG’s
public health policies and legislation are outdated and in urgent need of review.
He said the country needed to create and implement plans that would support existing policies such as the national health plan that were to monitor diseases that were threatening the health of the nation.
Among those diseases, Maxtone-Graham singled out cardio-vascular conditions and cancer as rapidly becoming the leading causes of death.
Kolma, in his tribute to his longtime colleague, described the response from the country’s leading hospital and healthcare provided for serious cases as hopelessly inadequate to the point of negligence. But, he tempered his criticism of the hospital saying that progressive governments were just as culpable in this sad state of affairs.
“Yehi has become another victim of the madness that we call public health care in this country. A man in his prime, so full of life and with so much to contribute, taken from life because … we have a poor excuse of a public health system.
“As a journalist, Yehi reported and commented on the appalling state of health care in the country. Eventually he fell victim to it.”
At the end of the day, Papua New Guineans from all walks of life need a healthcare system that can guarantee them prompt and adequate treatment including accurate diagnosis and the medication and advice to combat diseases and behaviour that causes one to lessen the quality of their lives. These are basic human rights and the responsibility of government.
We simply cannot continue to lose our valuable human resource. It is becoming a grim trend and does not bode well for our future.