Fight Against Malaria

March 28, 2008 at 11:31 pm (Commentary, malaria control, Papua New Guinea, PNG Health, Sepik River) ()

Blood survey in the Pora Pora - Copy

This photo was taken by Deborah, my wife, in 1973 while we were on patrol in the Pora Pora, a census division in the Angoram Sub-district. It shows John Pandum and me taking a blood sample in one of the half-yearly visits to the area, carrying out anti-malaria activities. The people of Pora Pora were prone to a lot of sickness: malaria, pneumonia, tropical ulcers, TB, influenza and many other minor complaints.

It was just amazing what could be done with penicillin, chloroquine and a few other simple remedies.

John was a squad leader in my malaria team. On a recent visit to Angoram I heard that he is not too well. He retired to his village in the Murik Lakes some years ago.

This picture conjured up in my mind many of the splendid activities carried out by officers in the colonial period. By and large we didn’t think we were anything special. Many young white officers were red-blooded, and got pissed, and whisked off the occasional local woman, but all substantially did their job.

Certainly not necessarily in the above category; but my mind turns to the many fine officers I knew in the various government departments: Francis Xavier Ryan, Dave Willis, Don Pybus, Alan Pretty, Luke Blansjaar, Mike Goodson, and many other agricultural officers. These men did extensive field work visiting villages and advising on the planting of coffee, rubber, eucalyptus and teak trees, rice and other crops and vegetables, and the care of livestock. The point being made here is that they did actually visit the villages, and had direct contact with the rural people.

Many fine kiaps come to mind: Dan Claasen, Jock McIntyre, Bob Bunting, Dave Bretherton, Mark O’Regan, Wayne Cross, and many others. They visited the villages and adjudicated disputes.

The Health Department had a score of dedicated personnel: Doctors like David Parkinson & Jan Saave, Medical Assistants like Frank Gilbert, Des Hill and a legion of other names come to mind, of those of whom delivered services directly to the people. Of field officers in the Malaria Service we think of the likes of: Andy Marke, Jim van der Kamp, Bob Allen, Jock Murray, Norm Coyle and countless others. Officers who not only visited main villages, but garden houses, and structures outside the villages.

Some of the criticism we hear of colonial governments does at times rather amuse me. Of course we all know what a splendid job Robert Gabriel Mugabe has done in Zimbabwe!! I hear you say: “What are you talking about?” But everyone in Zimbabwe is a millionaire. I don’t think a million Zimbabwean dollars will buy you a loaf of bread, but still the country is full of millionaires.

Most ordinary Africans were much better off under British rule in the then Southern Rhodesia than they are today. Even in PNG Sir Michael Somare is supposed to have said after twenty years of independence that: Papua New Guineans are worse off now than they were at the time of our independence. The  nation is in ruins right now.” Some would say that he has not helped much!

The fight against malaria in PNG is now from what I can see mainly conducted by NGOs. Bed nets impregnated with insecticide are supplied by overseas agencies and it was pleasing to note that  “the Australian government, through AusAID, has committed K25 million towards the fight against malaria in PNG over the next three years, starting in 2008.” So we can only hope for the future.

The massive anti-malaria programme started by the colonial administration in 1958 was stopped in PNG some years after independence. The disastrous results of this are obvious to see. In a place like Wewak cerebral malaria is a constant menace around the town,and surrounding areas. Let’s hope that the PNG Government will get their act together and do something positive against the scourge of malaria.

This is not the novissima verba on this important subject.

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