Chris Arthur, Staff Specialist in Haematology at Royal North Shore Hospital, had planned to use his long service leave to travel around Europe. But a couple of years ago, when in Kokopo, Papua New Guinea on a religious mission with his church, Chris stuck his head into a local hospital and he’s never looked back.
“I find it really fascinating working at St Mary’s Vunapope Hospital and the team seem to appreciate my help,” he said.
“I started going on ward rounds with the doctors and got to know the people. They didn’t have access to information, so I helped set them up with an online journal.”
In March, Chris will embark on his third six-month visit to the hospital. In a voluntary capacity, he spends three days a week at the hospital and other times as needed, and he’s even learning pidgin – the local language.
Chris has seen a variety of patients at the hospital, including those with haematological problems, machete wounds from domestic violence cases, diabetes, malaria, leukaemia and lymphoma. He said most of these aren’t managed properly because the staff doesn’t have the resources.
“The trouble is it takes so long to get the results from a biopsy that patients just get sicker compared to patients in Australia with lymphoma, for example, where it’s highly treatable,” he said.
“A lot of the patients just accept the suffering – some think it’s a curse that has been put on them.”
But with the limited resources they do have, Chris said the doctors are impressive. He remembers seeing several patients come in with pericardial tuberculosis, a condition where fluid surrounds the heart.
“The doctors are amazing – they would just go and stick a needle in and drain out all the fluids and the patient would get better,” he said.
On his upcoming visit, Chris plans to work with the local team to set up a cancer service and he also hopes to continue to develop links with health services in Australia to provide extra support.
“The hospital is such a contrast to what we have here and I want to help as much as I can,” he said.
“I’ve formed a partnership with a pathology service in Brisbane to help us with diagnoses, I’m talking to Pathology NSW to try and get some better equipment for the team over there. But I’m also hoping we can set up digital imaging, so we can send specimens to pathologists here to help diagnose.”