Telefomin traffic officer Ben Peter loading a vaccine eski into the aircraft
Photo by Mandy Glass

In Papua New Guinea's remote Telefomin District, rugged terrain and lack of infrastructure pose barriers to healthcare, but a partnership between provincial health providers, MAF, and the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) has helped overcome these challenges.

Story by Mandy Glass

Ephraim Urunok, a Community Health Worker (CHW) at the Telefomin district hospital, explains the impracticality of reaching these villages by foot and explains the dependence on MAF for health patrols in the mountainous terrain.

"There are no other options, like cars and roads, or waterways to catch a boat, they don’t exist. Therefore, we only have MAF to be able to do that kind of (health patrol) work here in the Telefomin District," said Mr Urunok.

To boost health patrols and child immunisation programs in isolated communities, MAF is partnering with the Provincial Health Authority in Vanimo. Through funding provided by MFAT (New Zealand Aid) specifically dedicated to flying health professionals, the wellbeing of children and the population in general has significantly improved.

Their lives are at risk, with a 50-50 chance as they don’t have any other options to access help. So, MAF is the means of transport we use to save the lives of people in the hard-to-reach, remote places.
Ephraim Urunok, CHW Telefomin Hospital

Tom Diyus, a Duranmin resident, echoes the sentiment, expressing gratitude for New Zealand Aid's support in the delivery of health care to his community.

"I want to thank New Zealand Aid for this program. As a ward member, as a counsellor of the village, I am very, very thankful and I’m very proud of the project."

He also emphasizes the comprehensive impact of the program, acknowledging not only the immunization of children but also the treatment of various diseases.

Mr Urunok highlights the collaboration between MAF and New Zealand Aid, enabling his team to visit Fiyak, another isolated community.

"Fiyak was closed for six or seven years, the airstrip was not operational. The locals there realized that it was difficult to receive any service. Therefore, they really worked hard to get their airstrip up to safe standards for the plane to land, and we could go there," said Mr Urunok.

The restoration of access to essential healthcare was one of the driving factors for the Fiyak community to restore their airstrip.

You can read about the re-opening of the Fiyak airstrip HERE.

Whiteboard at the Telefomin base with flights scheduled under the New Zealand Aid funding scheme

The collaboration between MAF and New Zealand Aid is pivotal, as Mr Urunok emphasizes. "To provide more service to these remote places would really improve things. Because their lives are at risk, with a 50-50 chance as they don’t have any other options to access help. So, MAF is the means of transport we use to save the lives of people in the hard-to-reach, remote places,” he said.

The partnership between MAF and MFAT with health patrol teams from the Telefomin District Hospital exemplifies a collaborative approach to healthcare in the face of geographic challenges. As the above testimonies reveal, these immunisation programs and health patrols are not merely initiatives but lifelines that safeguard the well-being of remote communities, ultimately bridging the gap between isolation and healthcare access.

Since the start of the partnership between MAF and New Zealand Aid about two years ago, MAF transported about 1300 health professionals providing almost 500 flights to bring help, hope and healing to places where health care is otherwise barely existing.

Almost 60 communities across mainland PNG have been visited, some of them for several times. In the delivery of professional health care, the project works together with provincial hospitals in Sandaun, East Sepik, Eastern Highlands, Enga, Gulf, Hela, Jiwaka, Madang, Morobe, West Sepik, Chimbu, Southern Highlands and Western Province.

MAF’s donor liaison for the project, Caleb Bjorem has high praise for MFAT: "It has been a real pleasure to work with MFAT on this project. Although the operating environment in PNG has faced some significant challenges over the course of this project, MFAT have always been understanding and willing to accommodate necessary changes along the way to ensure the best possible outcomes for the end beneficiaries. The MFAT staff we've engaged with in PNG have had a clear focus on positive and sustainable outcomes and this partnership is a perfect example of the way that MAF would like to engage in institutional funding projects in the future. I certainly hope that we will continue to partner with MFAT in PNG."

vaccine eskis and other cargo relevant for the health patrol on a trolley to be loaded into the MAF plane
Photo by Mandy Glass