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PNG: “In my village, when they see a person die, they attribute that to sorcery”

01 May 2018

Papua New Guinea has one of the highest burdens of tuberculosis (TB) worldwide, with almost 30,000 new cases in 2016. Three Médecins Sans Frontières patients share their experiences with TB in a country where receiving diagnosis and treatment is often extremely challenging.

Moika was first diagnosed with tuberculosis in 2012, but was unable to complete treatment because of the distance to the hospital.

Moika and her husband Kaia live in Kakoro, a remote village in the mountains of Papua New Guinea.

When Moika was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 2012, she spent two months receiving treatment in Port Moresby General Hospital, but was unable to stick to treatment when she returned home.

“She defaulted because our village is so far away and we had to go to Port Moresby for treatment which was very expensive. It was very difficult to return to Port Moresby for more drugs,” says Kaia.

In 2015, Moika’s symptoms returned. Her weight dropped to 38kgs, she had a recurrent cough and began spitting blood.

“She almost lost her life. I was really worried, as her husband,” says Kaia.

The couple made the journey from their village to Malalaua, where Médecins Sans Frontières supports a basic medical unit providing TB screening and treatment.

“It takes us one whole day to get to Malalaua, 10 hours, by boats and walking and cars. It’s very expensive – our fare is 100 kina ($AUD40) per person each way.”

Moika was this time diagnosed with multidrug-resistant TB and began on a gruelling two-year treatment regimen involving daily injections for the first few months. Luckily, the couple were able to stay with a relative in Malalaua while Moika received treatment.

“I know that TB is a killer disease but I also know that it is curable. But my village is so far away so I was really worried.”

Slowly, Moika’s cough subsided, she began to regain weight – and she has now been cured of the disease.

“I have been under treatment, medications, for two years now,” says Moika.

“To other TB patients out there, you must reliably complete your prescribed doses just like I did,” she says.

For Kaia, supporting his wife through treatment has prompted him to share information about TB with his community.

“In my village, when they see a person die, they attribute that to sorcery. That’s a belief there. I told them TB is not sorcery, it’s a sickness. I do some education – I say if you have these symptoms, you have to move, you have to go down and have the test.”
 

In Papua New Guinea, Médecins Sans Frontières provides TB diagnosis and treatment in Gulf Province and the National Capital District, in conjunction with the Ministry of Health. In 2017, our teams enrolled more than 1,700 TB patients in PNG.