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East New Britain, Papua New Guinea, has the highest recorded rate of Type 2 Diabetes (T2DM) and diabetes-related amputations throughout the whole of Papua New Guinea.

Working with local health providers, Volunteer Service Abroad is tackling the problem from all angles, sending volunteers with nursing and nutrition backgrounds – and even a chef, to work with the local community to encourage them to cook with local, fresh produce.

In 2016, Dr Al Maha – Leading Physician for the New Guinea Islands – decided to tackle the alarming growing rates of T2DM within the province.

With the help of stakeholders and local businesses, The Frangipani Friendly Clinic was brought into fruition. Suzanne Rockett, a VSA volunteer Diabetes Nursing Adviser with Nonga Hospital, says “The name for this clinic always brings out a smile, and demonstrates Dr Al Maha’s vision to capture the entire local community and understanding of the demographics and traditions of the local Tolais community.  They are often shy in coming forward, sometimes due to lack of understanding or fear of health providers.”

Frangipani Friendly Clinic is one of only two clinics in the whole of PNG that offer healthy screening checks that are free at the point- of-care delivery. It opened in 2016 and has a little over 40,000 registered diabetes patients, 80% of whom had organ damage or unhealed diabetes-related foot ulcers when they first presented.

Rockett’s assignment has seen her join with the local team to deliver clear and simple health education guidelines and tools, including a “healthy eating plate” and extensive community outreach through schools, local events and radio.

The “healthy eating plate”.

On World Diabetes Day in November last year, they launched a new slogan: “Get tested, get treated, live longer”. There is a fear around T2DM, just as there was around HIV, that a diagnosis can be a death sentence, so education about prevention and treatment options is vital.

Treatment, however, can still be out of reach. The International Diabetes Federation found that diabetes drives one in four families further into poverty, and rocket says “this can be seen in East New Britain, as Metformin is not funded, and patients have to pay for this medication at a huge cost of 9-20 kina per week.”

She adds “Delivering health care in PNG comes with many challenges, such as a lack of funding for basic diabetes medications and lack of resources including manpower and equipment. However, notwithstanding these challenges to care delivery, the clinic offers care for diabetes patients that equals care in New Zealand, and I’m not sure whether any diabetes clinic in NZ will have a one-day clinic full with 60 patients!”

VSA recruits year-round for volunteers from a wide variety of health and other professional backgrounds – assignments range from six months to two years, and costs are covered. Find out more: www.vsa.org.nz/volunteer

Banner image: Left-right Veronica Mafu, Angela Waula, Julianne Ripen, VSA volunteer Suzanne Rockett and Ashwin Lau

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