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Remote Rigo inland villagers get immunised

© Chambers/UNICEF PNG/April 2012
Four-day-old baby Gaoma receives her first oral polio drop during the Supplementary Immunisation Activity at Gautokomena Village in inland Rigo District of Central Province.

By Noreen Chambers

When I caught sight of 37-year-old mother of five, Iamo Bagu, cradling her new born baby in a CRC church hall at Gautokomena village in inland Rigo, Central Province, I immediately wondered if she gave birth in a health facility.

I wondered about this because I had just endured a 10-hour gruelling trek on foot the previous day from Lepamakana, just off the main Magi Highway about an hour and a halfs drive east of Port Moresby to this remote and isolated Rigo community called Didigoro. And I was absolutely shattered. Gautokomena village and neighbouring Kwairuka village make up the Didigoro community.

Myself and another UNICEF colleague, Dr. Grace Kariwiga had accompanied a patrol health team from the Department of Health and Central Province Division of Health to Didigoro where the health team was setting up to immunise children under five against measles and polio and women between the ages of 15 and 45 against tetanus. This trip was part of the government’s national Supplementary Immunisation Activity that UNICEF, AusAid and WHO are supporting. UNICEF supplied 50 per cent of the measles vaccines for this special immunisation campaign.

As I watch Iamo nestle her infant and rock her to sleep, I can't imagine how a heavily pregnant woman could trudge the same 10-hour journery I had just completed through hostile terrain just to get to a health facility to deliver her baby. The local villagers make the same journey in six hours but Iamo probaly would have done it in more than six hours if she had decided to go to a health facility to deliver.

There is no road link between Port Moresby and Didigoro and there is no health facility in Didigoro. CRC Church Elder and a leader in Didigoro, Robin Wai says the last aid post closed its door some 23 years ago after health services and infrastructure deteriorated. Travel between Didigoro and Port Moresby is usually a two-hour dinghy ride if the water level of the Omand River snaking its way towards the Omand Bridge on Magi Highway is high enough, or a seven to eight hour canoe or bamboo raft journey if the water level is low. The third option which many locals take is a punishing six-hour foot journey through harsh wilderness.

When I eventually get a chance to chat to Iamo, I find out her baby daughter, Gaoma is only four days old. Iamo gave birth to her daughter alone at home the same way she delivered her other four older children. This time though, Iamos husband, Simon, who had previously done some mid wifery training with Red Cross supervised the delivery. Fortunately, there were no complications.

To my untrained eyes, baby Gaoma looks healthy enough. Her mother had never attended an ante natal clinic during her pregnancy because of the long distance to a health facility. She has no idea how much her baby weighs and as a lay person myself with no medical background, I am clueless as to what medical signs to look out for in the mother and infant that might spell danger for them both.

My mind wanders back to a liver outside broadcase the National Broadcasting Corporation had done last September in partnership with the health department, UNICEF and AusAID on safe motherhood. It saddened me to know that Iamo had not received the care she needed to be safe and healthy throughout her pregnancy and childhood.

Today, the health team has set up an immunisation clinic in the CRC church hall. Iamo is glad she doesn’t have to make the long journey to Kwikila or Port Moresby to have her baby immunised. Baby Gaoma gets her first oral polio drop, her mother receives a tetanus shot, and Iamos older three-year-old brother, Bisa gets his measles shot and oral polio drop. Simon and Iamo are pleased. They only had to walk half an hour from their neighbouring Bagubara village to Didigoro for the immunisation.

I look around the room and take in the scene before me. Young mothers waiting patiently to receive their tetanus shots and health workers busy administering immunisation to mothers and children. It is pleasing to see many fathers have accompanied their wives and are helping to get their children immunised. But I can’t help wondering how many of these families have a similar story to Iamos to tell.

Right now there are smiles all around. For once, service has come to them and they couldn’t be happier. In all, 34 women received tetanus shots while 65 children received measles and polio vaccines.

© Chambers/UNICEF PNG/April 2012
The Bagu family, Iamo and Simon and their children, baby Gaoma and son Bisa.



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