By JASON DOM
Malaria research assistant Nadia Julie has come a long way to be here.
Armed with knowledge and one of the world’s best medicines, she is here with a team from China to help Papua New Guinea deal with its malaria scourge and make the country malaria free by 2030.
She is part of a four-member team from Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine, in southern China, one of China’s four oldest institutions specialising in Chinese traditional medicine. And they are here with 150,000 doses of Artequick, which is regarded as one of the best anti-malarial medicines.
“Our aim is to reduce malaria in PNG to one per cent and meet PNG’s Vision 2030 for the elimination of malaria,” Julie said.
“The Chinese government sees PNG’s Vision 2030 as a good opportunity to step in and help achieve that goal and reduce the incidence of malaria.”
The Chinese team is here after an agreement was signed with the Papua New Guinea Department of Health. It arrived in early March and travelled from Port Moresby to Alotauthen on toKiriwinaIsland, also in Milne Bay, in a 23-hour boat trip in windy and rainy conditions, carrying the 150,000 doses of Artequick drugs.
They stayed at Lokuia Lodge, the only working motel on the Island. It does not have air-conditioning so the medicine was stored in a room with ceiling fans.
Julie liked Kiriwina and found the people welcoming and friendly. She especially enjoyed the climate, which is different to that of Guangzhou, which is generally warm and humid all year round with temperatures usually ranging between lows of 12degrees Celsius in the winter in December and 34degrees Celsius in the middle of the northern summer in July.
With a humid subtropical monsoon climate, Guangzhou is characterised by warm winters, hot summers, little frost and snow, as well as sufficient rain and sunshine.
So the team was very much at home on Kiriwina where their anti-malaria programme involved three rounds of mass drug administration (MDA).
The first MDA round was in March, the second round in April and the third round in May. The team from Chinais led by Professor Song Jianping. The others includeProfessorDoctor Deng Chang Sheng,and research assistantsJulie, Dr Li Guoming, Dr Zhang Zhen Yan andLin Nan Song.
Australia has also contributed financial resourcesto PNG’s war against malaria, and so has Population Services International (PSI), a United States-based non-governmental organisation, which deployed outreach officers to teach communities how to use mosquito nets consistently and correctly, and how to identify the symptoms of malaria and seek treatment quickly.
Both Rotarians Against Malaria and PSI implement their malaria activities through financial support from the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
The combined effort has slashed the incidence of malaria in PNG since 2004, from 400 cases per 100,000 population to 200, according to the World Health Organisation.
Between 2009 and 2015, the incidence of malaria admissions to public health facilities dropped by 83 per cent, and malaria death rates in health facilities fell by 76 per cent.
Research assistant Julie and the Chinese team trained 300 local volunteers and health workers to conduct the field work and deliver the medicine in the Kiriwina-Goodenough district. They were based on Kiriwina Island, the largest of the Trobriand Islands; most of the 12,000 people who live in the Trobriands live on Kiriwina.
The programme’s focus was to reduce infection and deaths from malaria to less than one per cent and then follow up on the results.
More than 95 per cent of the district’s population were treated, with the team of Chinese professionals and local volunteers going from village to village, either on foot or by canoe.
The drug doses given out were different for different people, like for children and pregnant mothers. The drug could not be given to women who were more than three months pregnant, children under the age of six months or people who had difficulty swallowing. The team completed the last round of MDA in May.
The programme has also seen the construction of a malaria care centre inHohola, in Port Moresby, which is expected to open at the end of November. The centre will have an exhibition room and two treatment rooms on the ground floor.
The second floor will have a laboratory, entomology room, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) room, and a minimum of six or seven microscopes.
The lab will be used to test blood samples taken from the field, including the ones collected at Kiriwina. The last phase of the Milne Bay programme – the survey – will be done after the centre has been completed.
After Kiriwina-Goodenough, the programme will move on to Milne Bay’s other three districts of Alotau, Esa’ala andSamarai-Murua.
Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicinehas a similar team in Africa providing technical assistance on the three Islands of Comoros, in Malawi, and Kenya and Togowhere the use of the Artequick medicine has been successful.
By JASON DOM