Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

WARNING: THIS STORY CONTAINS CONTENT THAT MAY BE UPSETTING.

It was October 12, 2015, two months after the ‘1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain’ phone counselling service was launched in Port Moresby. A female caller from Lae rang 715-08000, the national freecall hotline number. Her violent husband had just stabbed her father and also attacked her mother.

The phone counsellor who took the call quickly provided initial crisis counselling and stayed on the phone. With permission from the caller, two other counsellors tried contacting local organisations, the police, family support agencies and the nearest hospital.

Calls to these organisations rang out so the counsellors contacted a local security firm. A senior guard on call contacted his team nearest to the location to assist.

The father was rushed to the hospital by security guard vehicle. The perpetrator fled the scene.

“The client asked me if she could give some water to her father as he was losing too much blood,” recalled the counsellor. “I told her not to give him water but tell the victim to swallow his saliva instead.

“I had to put picture to words and put every skill I learned on first aid by guiding the client who also advised the men who were helping her bleeding father. I told the client if the victim drinks water he will lose more blood, which could kill him.

“The next day I followed up with the client. Her parents were treated and admitted at the hospital. The wounds sustained by the client’s father were closed with eight stitches.

“I also planned to assist the client by reporting the matter to police, however, conditions did not allow. The client feared reporting the matter could put her in more danger,” the counsellor said.

For Papua New Guinean health worker Celestine, tackling the tuberculosis (TB) epidemic in her country has become somewhat of a personal crusade, after losing both of her parents to TB and contracting the disease herself. More than 9,000 people have died from TB in PNG over the past three years – including hundreds of children – and it is people like Celestine working on the frontline who urgently need support to tackle this terrible but treatable disease.

“I always wanted to help sick people get better, but I never wanted to work with TB patients. I was afraid I would catch it,” says Celestine I’Ova.

Celestine is a health worker at a small rural clinic in Papua New Guinea`s Central Province. The clinic is a basic shack, typical of many across PNG. There are just six staff to provide support for around 15,000 people, some of them travelling six hours by boat for medical attention.

Despite having over 20 years of frontline experience as a community health worker, TB has always held a particular terror for Celestine. Both of her parents died from the disease, and she admits avoiding TB patients for years afterwards.

“I did not want to learn how to treat TB patients,” she says. “Also, with the deteriorating health facilities and lack of resources at our health centre, I felt it was not safe for us. When TB patients came, I never stood in front of them or spoke to them; I always moved away from the patients.”

In PNG, however, TB is a growing epidemic. Over the past three years, it has killed 9,000 people in the Pacific island nation, with children particularly susceptible to the most disabling forms of the disease. By comparison, the Ebola virus, which galvanised such international fear and concern, killed 11,300 people globally in the same period.