In September, Canadian Salvationists April Barthau and Marco Harrera Lopizic embarked on a two-year mission in Papua New Guinea. A nurse and a doctor, they will be running The Salvation Army’s medical clinic in Port Moresby. In this monthly blog for Salvationist.ca, April shares their experiences.
It is hard for us to believe that we have already been in Papua New Guinea (PNG) for two months. It has been a period of much learning and adaptation. We are very happy here and feel so supported by everyone’s interest in this journey that God has sent us on to minister to his people.
PNG has a population of about 7.5 million people, of which 250,000 live in the capital, Port Moresby. You can drive from one side of the city to the other in 15 minutes, which illustrates just how small the city actually is.
Our main site is the Salvation Army’s Koki Clinic, which is next to several settlements—areas where people build homes and live near family, including extended relatives. These people struggle to have basic human rights, such as water, food, clothing and health care.
Koki Clinic sees outpatients, meaning it’s like a walk-in clinic and urgent care centre combined. The clinic is currently funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through FHI 360, USAID’s community care program. The funding allows us to focus on treating HIV and sexually transmitted infections in our key populations, which are at-risk persons, transgender persons and sex workers. Our HIV clinic is comprehensive, having an anti-retroviral treatment (ART) nurse who prescribes HIV medications, counsellors who conduct HIV testing, and case managers who ensure that our retention rate stays high by tracking patients. Our clinic is proud to have a laboratory on site, and just over a month ago, our lab technician was trained to do HIV viral load testing—one of the three people in the country who have this training. However, having a multi-disciplinary team is not sufficient, especially with the challenge of self-stigmatization, so our ART nurse also does a monthly support group for people living with HIV.
We also have a satellite site called Ela Beach where our counsellors and nurses screen and treat our key populations, and we are working toward providing HIV care. Above the clinic is our House of Hope where persons experiencing gender-based violence (GBV), including human trafficking, can go for shelter and food. Our GBV team works hard on empowering women and their children to break the cycle of abuse through support groups, literacy training (the literacy rate in PNG is only 56 percent), and job or craft training so they can become financially stable.
With all the programs that are happening, we put many hours into co-ordinating the activities at both our clinic sites. We are learning a lot about human resources as we now manage 23 staff members.
This past month, we were blessed to receive a truck, courtesy of the Canada and Bermuda Territory, so in the New Year we can start doing rural clinics. We were also blessed to attend commissioning events, a culturally and spiritually rich experience. At band devotions, I encouraged the bandsmen to focus on the commitments that were going to be made by the cadets at commissioning.
As we look ahead at the New Year, we are reflecting on what we can do to build a deeper relationship with Christ each day. One thing that will be on our list of New Year’s resolutions is prayer. As we are instructed in Ephesians 6: 18, “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” Please continue to pray for us as we learn more about Papua New Guinea’s diverse culture, the Pidgin language, and how to improve the quality of care at our clinics.
We look forward to writing to you all next year. Until then, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!