The rewards of hard labour

Normal, Weekender

The National, Friday 7th September, 2012

THE ambulance siren sends out its usual signals yet again; for this trip a fragile old man from the nearby Paralga tribe needs Tmedical help immediately.
The driver is used to being woken up at odd hours as he is on call day and night for anyone who needs help.
This time it is close to mid morning on a clear day, thank goodness, because if it rained it would place an extra burden of safety for both patient and driver.
William Tonal, officer in charge at Koibuga’s Catholic health centre not only knows his job but loves what he does.
He has done this for over 14 years working at the health centre which serves close to 10,000 people.
The people have fondly bestowed upon him the title of honorary ‘doctor’ and he is known throughout the com-munity as “Dr Willie”.
Koibuga is almost an hour’s drive from Mt Hagen city and is in the lower Nebilyer district of Western Highlands Province.
On this trip, there has been a referral and he needs to take his patient all the way to Kudjip Nazarene Hospital fur-ther out of Mt Hagen taking several more hours.
His passion is evident when he drives past the busy Kai Wei betelnut market, where man and beast go about doing their business with no regard for vehicles that pass through the main highway.
Even the ambulance siren is not a cause for concern. The urgency in Tonal’s voice is clear as he maneuvers his way past the crowd whose sole priced commodity of trade is betelnut.
“I have seen many people die and these deaths could have been prevented if we had better facilities. My people have suffered over many years and lots of mothers have died due to birth complications.
Now I am happy,” said Mr. Tonal.
And he has every reason to be happy because the old aid post where he works has been given a upgrade to health centre with help from the Messeior Foundation in Germany and Papua New Guinea Sustainable Develop¬ment Fund.
Last year his old Suzuki was replaced with a new ambu¬lance and that ambulance has not rested since making Koibuga its base. The ambu¬lance was donated by Digicel Foundation.
Tonal said previously they would lose two to three moth¬ers every year due to birth difficulties. Now with proper facilities mothers are assisted and where there is no help at Koibuga, the ambulance takes them to the Mt. Hagen Gen¬eral Hospital in the city. There is now a total of three staff members working with Tonal at the health centre.
The local community’s enthusiasm was outstanding when they banded together to build a staff house and clinic two years ago. Following this development another staff house was built with funds from National MP Benjamin Poponawa.
The building of staff houses including the health centre was spearheaded by local skilled building tradesman Nelson Tu.
Village chief and elder John Nengal said it was not an easy task trying to get people to contribute towards building the clinic and staff house in its initial development stage.
He said most people made a living through subsistence farming and it was hard. Nen¬gal said the population was di-vided into family groups with each having their own leaders. These became the local health board formed in 2000. The community health board worked with their members to encourage support and what started out as a K5 contribu¬tion per head led to extraordi¬nary accomplishments when development partners became interest in their initiative.
The community health board is chaired by John Pundia who said he was proud of what communities throughout the area have been doing and said if people showed initiative development is possible.
Pundia said the leadership of people involved and the support by local communities and key development partners made it possible to do extraor¬dinary things such as what Koibuga has achieved.
From a single room aid post nearly three years ago, Koi¬buga health centre now has a voluntary counselling and testing room, antenatal clinic, general ward, labour ward, paediatric ward, an outpatient and male ward.
Tonal said since these devel¬opments more lives have been saved and this has made his work together with his staff and the support of the com¬munity more rewarding. There have been more safe deliveries of babies at Koibuga health centre and many referrals since 2009.
“When a mother is saved, that is more rewarding. I get phone calls early hours of the morning because one life needs to be saved and I have to get up and get going. If I don’t a life might be lost,” Tonal said.
The leaders said one other need for the community would be the building of a mini hydro scheme to service the health centre, the Catholic church and the Numul top up primary school. And with what they have achieved so far anything is possible.