Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

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As the school year begins in Timor-Leste, a group of young children in a remote village are excitedly arriving at a new preschool.

Their parents gather around, as the children wash their hands with soapy water before classroom activities begin. This routine has been in place since the school opened in mid- January to keep the coronavirus at bay.

The school, a cheerful green, blue and orange building, was established by the community with the help of ChildFund, which provided training and materials. Inside, collections of books suitable for children between the ages of three and five sit on a shelf, alongside other learning materials and educational toys.

For five-year-old Nanju (pictured above), starting school has been a long-time coming. He is a curious and enthusiastic child, says his father Celestiano, and has been eagerly learning the alphabet at home while schools were closed during the COVID-19 lockdown.

“Nanju is very active,” Celestiano says. “At home he was learning his ABCs and colouring-in.

“He is so happy now that the school is finally open.”

Before the preschool was built, children in the village walked 3km to the nearest preschool, which was in the city. The long walk on a steep and rocky road discouraged many families from enrolling their children in preschool.  

Tuberculosis is a disease that has been all-but eradicated in most developed countries but it is still the world’s leading cause of death from a single infectious agent.

In 2018 an estimated 37,000 people in Papua New Guinea (PNG) had tuberculosis and more than 4,500 died.

It is one of only 14 countries classified as having the triple high burden of tuberculosis, multi-drug resistant tuberculosis and tuberculosis/HIV.

Eradicating tuberculosis (TB) from PNG requires improvements in many sectors of society. Overcrowded housing settlements, a lack of education and poor diets all contribute to the spread of the disease.

Dr Daoni Eserom, the executive manager of public health at the National Department of Health, notes that poverty creates the conditions in which the disease can flourish.

He said: “We have a lot of settlements, a lot of unplanned housing and all of these are big contributors to TB.

“Malnutrition, especially in kids, is a very big contributor to TB. So is the ability of households to have the resources to actually seek access to healthcare when they’re sick.”

A view of the mountains, Rigo district, Central province, PNG.

To get tested for TB, people often have to travel to major urban centres. Once diagnosed, patients must follow a six-month course of four antibiotics.

Most people feel well soon after treatment begins, which can result in them not finishing the full course.

This has led to the rise of drug-resistant forms of tuberculosis that are deadlier and require more expensive treatment that can last up to 20 months.

Dr Daoni describes PNG’s ongoing battle with TB as a “war”.

Olve Ha, Head of Health Program in ChildFund Papua New Guinea

ChildFund PNG Health Programs Manager Olive Oa (pictured above) concurs, saying: “We are trying our best to control it. We are advocating at the highest levels and trying to mobilise as many resources as we can, but it’s still there.”