Riding to raise funds for basic health care in PNG

  • Person riding a bike and high fiving local PNG boy
  • Local PNG medical supplies

Photos: Australian Doctors International

Rebecca Payne
Australian Doctors International

“An incinerator,” the head of the clinic said. “An incinerator is the thing that would make the most difference to us here – so that the midwives have somewhere better to burn the placentas. And also, a proper place for patients to wash their hands after they go to the toilet.”

We’re all familiar with the challenges of accessing health care for rural Australians - but just imagine if your closest hospital didn’t have an incinerator, or a proper bathroom. That is the reality for our Papua New Guinea neighbours, just a three hour flight away from our modern hospitals.

Seeing this on the ground prompted the creation in 2000 of Australian Doctors International (ADI) - a small, Sydney-based charity that provides basic health care to rural and remote communities in PNG via ‘patrols’. Volunteer doctors head out via boat, troopie, or even on foot to the more remote areas, to run free clinics for local people. They might come across patients with leprosy, or people who have been hampered for a long time by easily fixed health problems, some of whom have never seen a doctor in their entire lives. The experience can be profound and life changing. (See Partyline #49, April 2014 and #53, April 2015 for stories on Australian rural doctors volunteering in PNG with ADI.)

If you’ve ever dreamed of taking off on a volunteering experience like this, but can’t quite manage to take months away from work and family, ADI is currently recruiting Australian health workers and those interested in health care, to join a fund-raising six-day bike ride adventure along the coast of New Ireland, PNG.

The ADI team wants share the beautiful and comparatively safe island they know so well from their medical patrols, but to go beyond the beautiful beaches and friendly faces, and introduce the riders to some locals and some local realities. Riders will see the happy side of ADI’s work: midwives recently trained to manage a breech birth sharing stories of mothers’ and babies’ lives saved; a hospital where the ADI volunteer doctor’s husband built toilets for patients. But they’ll also see the reality of an ambulance, but no petrol to put in it; and a diagnosis, but no drugs available to help.

Then there’s the physical challenge of the ride itself: toiling 260 kilometres through varied terrain in tropical heat (averaging 30 degrees). The road winds along the coast, up and down some small hills, and most of it surprisingly good bitumen. There is an unsealed section of around 25 kilometres and the pot holes you’d expect, as well as bridges in various states of disrepair.

ADI expects the combination of the scenery, the locals, and the unique opportunity to see behind the scene of rural and remote health clinics to be the highlights of the ride. The chance to visit hospitals and clinics as part of a small group will make riders feel like part of the ADI team.

ADI has assessed the security and safety of New Ireland, where two to three ADI Australian volunteers are based, and feels confident that the trip can go ahead with a low level of risk. ADI will cover security and safety via its connections and through working with the local provincial government, which is in support of the ride. New Ireland is a quiet PNG island that ADI knows well, and where ADI is known - it’s not Port Moresby.

The ride will be 260 kilometres, from Namatanai to Kavieng on 13-18 May 2018. There will be a maximum of 20 participants plus staff. For more information visit pedal4png.wordpress.com>

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