BAGABAG ISLAND, Papua New Guinea — The temperature sometimes neared 32 degrees Celsius as the medical volunteers hiked to their village destinations here. They walked for almost an hour on several days, traveling across mud paths and log bridges — once through soaking rain — to see their patients. The 27-person group hauled medical supplies, dental chairs, a canopy under which they would set up clinics, and a large container of water to keep everyone hydrated for the hours they would be working in the heat. The locals were quick to offer assistance when they saw the large amount of luggage the volunteers were carrying.
All of this was to bring primary- and dental-health care to approximately 5,000 island inhabitants who likely have never received it before. Dr. John Raines, an internist from the U.S., said the experience was challenging, but worthwhile.
“It’s personally rewarding to serve in that way,” said Raines, 67, of Minnesota. “It’s obviously rewarding to bring health care where there hasn’t been any and protect children from childhood diseases that otherwise could produce serious consequences for them the rest of their lives.”
The services were brought to Bagabag Island by the m/v PACIFIC LINK — a YWAM Ships Kona medical-aid vessel — the first week of March. It was the first time for the ship to reach that island. Marianna Duncan, a nurse from the U.S., said she was moved by the gratitude displayed by the islanders her team helped.
“They’re pretty grateful for everything they get and they make sure that you know that they’re grateful,” said Duncan, 56, of Hawaii. “I was surprised.”
Rough conditions on the ocean increased the length of hikes for medical, dental and eye-care volunteers several times on Bagabag Island. They were sometimes unable to travel from the PACIFIC LINK to shore near the intended site of their clinics using an inflatable zodiac — the normal course of action — because the weather made it dangerous to sail there. Instead, they took a boat to the shore along New Year’s Bay, where the PACIFIC LINK was anchored, and hiked to their village destinations. The farthest hike was 90-minutes long.
The team conducted eye examines, extracted teeth and gave vaccinations to many children who had never been vaccinated. Bagabag has one health clinic in Badilu village — on the central-west side of the island — but not enough medicine there to keep up with the demand.
“When you think about the difficulties of refrigeration for vaccines, I suspect that’s part of why vaccines were so far behind on
so many of the children we saw,” said Raines, noting that only Badilu had so much as a power-generated building. Raines said the team coped well with the hot and humid conditions.
“Most of us were in Papua New Guinea a month before Bagabag, so we were pretty well acclimatized to the heat,” Raines said. “The problem with working in hot weather is usually the first 10 days or so. After that, you adjust.”