Saturday, October 1, 2016

The VScan pilot project saving lives in PNG

IT HAS been said, "Whatever there be of progress in life, comes not through adaption, but through daring." Henry Miller.

It is this "daring" to believe that the people of Papua New Guinea should have access to as much medical intervention and technology available, not just what they have always used or had, that contributed to Vscan Pilot Project of the Papua New Guinea Tribal Foundation ("Tribal Foundation").

On September 12, 2016, Dr Glen Mola wrote an opinion letter regarding the Tribal Foundation’s VScan Pilot Project. This personal opinion letter was printed in the Yu Tok section of the Post-Courier, and unfortunately was grossly inaccurate. Dr Mola’s statements attempt to undermine the hard working professionals who are on the front line serving PNG’s rural population.

Interestingly, Dr Mola has written opinions not based on any first hand experience with the Vscans. Our partners at the project hospitals and health centres cannot recall ever having a visit by Dr Mola, nor has he been involved in the project, so his information is significantly lacking and created from facts unknown to any of the participants in this progressive project.

By way of background, the VScan is an innovative ultrasound device that was designed by General Electric (GE), especially for rural healthcare providers, and has in fact been introduced in other developing countries with great success. The VScan is designed to enhance capabilities of properly trained healthcare providers and is portable, robust, and relatively simple to use. It is especially useful for assessing pregnant women, but is also quite capable of detecting bone fractures, internal bleeding, and other ailments often treated in rural PNG. GE donated the use of eight VScan Units for a two year pilot project the Tribal Foundation has been conducting in partnership with the Enga Provincial Health Authority.

Mola’s suggestion that Tribal Foundation placed the "medical toy" in the hands of untrained HEOs who are now "keeping them in their houses where they are used to perform private scans" would be laughable if it were not such an insult to General Electric, The Tribal Foundation, Enga Provincial Health Authority, the five local doctors (one is a surgeon) two midwives, two well trained HEOs, and a missionary nurse, who are directly involved in the project.

His letter was also an insult to Tribal Foundation’s own medical directors and global health experts, Professor Hauswald (ED Physician) and Professor Kerr (OB/GYN Physician) who both spent a month in Enga Province last year introducing the project and providing training to the healthcare providers.

As a matter of policy, the Tribal Foundation always seeks to place Papua New Guineans in charge of our projects, and provide international support when needed.

In the case of the VScan Pilot Project, we placed a local doctor in Enga in charge of the project, supported by a local health administrator, and further supported by our medical directors, Drs Hauswald and Kerr. The two-year pilot, or test, project has already proven to be a success, and we recently received a report from Drs Hauswald and Kerr from their one year follow up visit to Enga Province, that detailed how the VScan has enhanced services and saved lives. GE has also recently sent members of their organisation to assess progress.

As should come as no surprise, additional training was identified by both Tribal Foundation and GE. When there is a taste of positive results and what a piece of technology such as the VScan can provide to the people of Papua New Guinea, of course a natural reaction is "how can we do more with this device?" Towards this end, ongoing training has always been a part of the pilot project.

Long before Dr Mola’s "opinions" both GE and Tribal have planned to provide additional training this year. Furthermore, the local healthcare providers have given feedback to GE on how they can improve the VScan to make it more usable, especially while on patrol.

Last week I completed my own follow up visit to Enga Province where I met with healthcare providers who are quite happy with the VScan, and reported that it has greatly improved their ability to assess patients. An unexpected benefit is that fathers are attending prenatal visits with their wives so they too can see their unborn children and as a result of this experience, are reported to be more supportive during pregnancy. I also met with Mr Aaron Luai, CEO of Enga Provincial Health Authority, as well as Governor, Sir Peter Ipatas, who are both quite pleased with the project and the successes todate.

A few days after Dr Mola’s misleading letter to the Post-Courier we received this photograph and brief report from a missionary nurse who is using the VScan at a remote clinic in Gulf Province that the Tribal Foundation supports.

"VScan by GE has improved our care of patients! Yesterday we visualised a shattered ulna, broken radius, and today ruled out a broken leg. Thank you PNG Tribal Foundation."

I have found that new ideas are sometimes difficult and threatening to people. I recall when I was the president of Samaritan Aviation and my team and I were setting up the floatplane operation in the East Sepik Province. A few old timers from PNG’s aviation industry said a medical floatplane operation would never work. They soon became silent once the first lives were saved and later became supporters when the operation was proven to be a success. Just like them, Dr Mola is welcome to his own opinion, but he is not welcome to make up his own facts about Tribal Foundation’s project.

My mother is a nurse who served rural PNG as a health professional for twenty-five years. I grew up playing around remote health centres where my mother treated many patients. She is retired now but when she learned of the VScan she said; "I sure wish we had that device back in my day. It would have saved a lot of lives."

The Tribal Foundation is not new to rural health and has provided millions of Kina in medical supplies to PNG’s rural health centres and hospitals.

Rather than taking pot shots from the comforts of Port Moresby (maski lo gespaia nabaut) we suggest Dr Mola go on patrol with some of the dedicated and welltrained, local healthcare providers whose ability and integrity he publicly questioned. What he will find is hardworking professionals, with very few resources,who are out sacrificing every day to serve PNG’s rural population. With the VScan, they now have a tool that has already proven to be useful. This project is not about "medical toys" it is about saving lives and contrary to Mola’s misinformation, lives are being saved.

The author is the president of the non-profit organisation PNG Tribal Foundation.