RACGP GP Registrar of the Year 2008 in PNG to volunteer with Australian Doctors International
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - 19 February 2009
Australian Doctors International
RACGP GP Registrar of the Year 2008 and rural doctor Verena Doolabh never shies from a challenge or helping others, both inside and outside her surgery.
A year after she was shot in the spine and paralysed from the waist down whilst holidaying in Jordan, she taught herself to walk again and trekked to Everest Base Camp in Nepal to raise money for Spinal Cure Australia. Now she has packed her rucksack and joined Australian Doctors International in North Fly District, Western Province, PNG where she will be the sole doctor for many remote villages.
“I have always wanted to use my medical knowledge to help those less fortunate, and volunteer work is a way of achieving this,” said 30-year-old Dr. Doolabh of her 14-week-long assignment with Australian Doctors International (ADI), a small not-for-profit development aid organisation working for a healthier PNG.
Based in the port town of Kiunga, Dr. Doolabh will split her time between clinics at the Catholic Mission, busy rounds at the local hospital, and patrols to remote villages and refugee settlements. She will also participate in ADI’s malaria bed net program, tend to an isolated community of 24 leprosy patients, introduce Mass Drug Administration to curb elephantiasis to 21 health centres and aid posts, and facilitate and teach 60 community health workers at an ADI sponsored training workshop.
An adventurous and well-travelled woman originally from New Zealand, Dr. Doolabh isn’t deterred by the fact that in PNG she’ll be without the essentials that most doctors in Australia take for granted: medical colleagues to confer with; up-to-date drugs and equipment; and sometimes, even basic electricity and clean water!
“I have experience working in rural towns such as Coonamble, NSW and Mitchell, QLD, and am used to dealing with limited resources. One of the things I love about rural medicine is the challenge of having to deal with nearly everything,” she said. “You become better at clinical examination rather than always relying on investigations and more senior doctors. This is a skill that I will continue to improve upon whilst working for ADI.”
PNG is Australia’s closest neighbour at just five kilometres away from Australian soil. Sadly, PNG’s health status is the lowest in the Pacific region (WHO 2005). Thirty-five percent of children under five are underweight (UNDP); one in 18 mothers die in pregnancy or childbirth (UNICEF 2007); and communicable diseases – including pneumonia, malaria, tuberculosis, diarrheal diseases, meningitis and HIV/AIDS – remain the leading cause of morbidity and account for around 50 percent of mortality (WHO 2005).
ADI has been working in PNG since 2002. To date they have sent 15 volunteer doctors on 23 assignments to look after a patient population of around 32,000 people in North Fly District. They have also distributed more than 50,000 malaria bed nets to isolated villages in North Fly and Middle Fly districts where the results are beginning to show.
Wholly committed to her cause, Dr. Doolabh admits that isolation will be the biggest challenge of this next assignment since she’ll be leaving her partner behind. But in PNG where family and community are central to everyday life, it’s sure to only be a matter of time before she starts meeting new friends, forming relationships with patients, and mastering the traditional finger click greeting.
“Working in PNG will be a completely new experience, and I believe that you only grow as a person if you continually challenge yourself. As daunting as this role is, the challenge is also exciting and I feel privileged to have the opportunity to work for ADI,” she said.
About ADI: Australian Doctors International (ADI) is a not-for-profit development aid organisation working to improve the health of people living in remote communities of Papua New Guinea. ADI currently operates in Western Province, PNG where it deploys volunteer doctors, delivers public health programs to fight malaria and lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis), and provides education and training for local health workers. ADI is run by volunteers and relies on private sponsors to fund its programs. www.adi.org.au
Media: Leah Boonthanom 0411 860 741 or www.adi.org.au