Three days in a stretcher


On Mt Brown in the Owen Stanley Range in inland Rigo, Central, is the village of Sanomu.
From there a sick and weak old man is stretchered through the rugged terrain in search of health services.
The graceful and caring young men shoulder the stretcher, followed by faithful wives, mothers and sisters with loads for food and water for the journey to the closest road where a vehicle would pick up the sick.
Lying in the stretcher is old Ia’a Varabu, with hopes he would make it on time to a hospital and not die along the way and taken back home for burial.
It took three days and two nights up and down the mountains before the party finally arrived at a location that was close to a road at Boku.
Varabu, 70, was a United Church deacon for 37 years and also a village policeman and had huge influence in his village. Naturally when he fell ill, the community stepped in to assist him to seek medical care.
He was suffering from severe pains all over his body for quite some time and his condition deteriorated and he decided he couldn’t wait anymore but beat the tough conditions of his village to find an answer to his problem.
After two days and two nights along the way from his village to K’oro where he was taken to Kwikila Health Centre, Varabu was brought into Gerehu General Hospital, then referred to Port Moresby General Hospital where he is now undergoing further treatment.
Varabu left his Sanomu village last Thursday and arrived at Gerehu at 7.30pm on Saturday.
Sanomu is the last village on the Owen Stanley Range and is on the border of Central and Northern. From the air, Sanomu is very close to Port Moresby but is quite a distance on foot.
Access into the area has remained a huge challenge so services are not reaching the village and people have to travel long distances for them.
Basic services like roads, aid posts, clinics, schools and airstrips are non-existent in Sanomu today.
In better days, the village community had three aid posts that served the health needs of the people but these had closed some 20 years ago and healthcare remains a big challenge there. The shut down aid posts are Homenomu, Gogomanomu and Nokomaka. The community also had airstrips at Oramu, Eiyaura and Dorobisoro but they too have been closed.
It is the people’s greatest wish to see at least one of these services revived, whether it is a health post or an airstrip, to ease some of their burdens.
The climate at Sanomu is similar to the Highlands provinces and vegetables like cabbages, carrot, kaukau, and well as coffee grow very well but cannot be taken out to markets.
“We can grow food and cash crops and make money like our friends from the highlands in Port Moresby but how can we? We don’t have access at least to a road to transport our products,” Varabu said.
The old man is now admitted at the Gerehu General Hospital whilst his relatives who escorted him are patiently waiting outside the hospital area. They will wait until Varabu is discharged from the hospital. Varabu said the people are very desperate for services.
“We want roads or at least an airstrip to make travel easier. We have no school open and teachers are reluctant to go in there. How can they live there without services, trade stores to buy basics to sustain themselves? All this will happen through roads which are a basic.”
Soanomu is in Rigo inland and is part of the Rigo electorate of MP Lekwa Gure who is serving his first term.
Rigo is one of the four districts of Central, the others being Abau, Goilala and Kairuku-Hri. It has approximate total area of 5,072square kilometers and a population of 56,509 (2011 National Census). The area’s isolation poses many constraints such as lengthy travel times for locals to purchase of agricultural inputs or other goods, limited access to news and information, limited local job opportunities or information about opportunities elsewhere, and infrequent communication with family members.
Having good roads and access to basic services is a priority for all rural and remote areas in the country.
However, for the people of Sanomu, Seba, Gevere, Debado and the Oman villages of inland Rigo, that is a dream yet to come true one day.
Varabu said they have no PMV trucks to transport their produce to sell in Port Moresby but walked for hours to Boregaina to catch PMVs.
“We brave the road condition and walk for hours to get into town to sell our fresh produce because we need money to pay for schools fees and for our basic necessities.
“The condition of the road is very bad for any ordinary vehicle and that has been the case for years. The road gets worse every year when it rains.
“We want the authorities to help us. We do not need anything big but we want good roads and basic government services so that we can live a normal life,” Varabu said.

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