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In the Simbu, conquering the curse of osteomyelitis

FRANCIS NII | Supported by the South Pacific Strategic Solutions Writing Fellowship

Pauline Kuma (Photo - Francis Nii)A NEW LEASE OF HEALTHY and vibrant life after many years of living in pain and confinement is every patient’s dream.

Osteomyelitis, a painful bone-decaying condition that has afflicted many young children, sometimes even causing permanent disability, will soon be a scourge of the past.

The surgical doctors at Sir Joseph Nombri Memorial Hospital in Kundiawa, Simbu Province were baffled when, after many years of treating osteomyelitis patients with common drugs like amoxicillin, flucloxacilin and chloramphenical, there was very little or no improvement in the condition of the patients, most of whom were children under the age of 14.

This lack of success prompted the doctors to undertake research into bacteriology and the sensitivity of the antibiotics administered to find out why there was no effect.

The research jointly carried out by doctors led by senior surgeon Dr Damien Hasola in collaboration with the PNG Institute of Medical Research is sponsored by the Simbu Children Foundation. It started at the beginning of July 2012 and continues.

The bacteria or organisms present in the disease have now been identified and their levels of sensitivity to common antibiotics established. The full results will be documented at the conclusion of the research.

Basing on the preliminary findings, the doctors have developed a new drug regime. As a result, significant improvements have been showing in the patients’ conditions.

Many have been discharged. The first patient-cum-beneficiary was 16 year old Pauline Kuma of the Tekpa clan of Kitip village in the Dei Council of the Western Highlands Province. She is the eighth and last born in a family of four boys and four girls.

In August 2009, with the support of her mother Sarah and father Kuma, Pauline left behind her siblings and the comfort of home and headed east in search of medication for a painful swelling on her left leg.

Pauline first sought medication at the Mt Hagen General Hospital. After being treated with antibiotics, the swelling did not subside. Instead it got worse and it became very painful.

So her parents decided to bring Pauline to Sir Joseph Nombri Memorial Hospital in the Simbu Province to seek further medical assistance for their lovely daughter.

Senior surgeon and bone specialist, Dr Jan Jaworski, diagnosed her condition as osteomyelitis. He admitted Pauline to the surgical ward for further medication. Pauline was hospitalised together with many other children suffering from the same disease.

After receiving treatment under the new drug regime, Pauline’s sore had healed. However she would have to rely on the tibia for the rest of her life as the fibula had been completely destroyed by the osteomyelitis organisms. She had been discharged with a plaster of paris cast to support her until the tibia is strong enough to bear her body weight.

After three long and painful years of hospitalisation, Pauline and her mother Sarah happily departed for home sweet home on the 9 August 2011 thanks to the osteomyelitis research.

Before they left, they asked me to convey their gratitude to all the doctors, SCF president Jimmy Drekore and everyone involved in the research and clinical care.

Mipela i hamamas tru sua i drai olgeta –we are very happy the sore had completely healed,” were Sarah’s departing words accompanied by tears of joy as they headed for home.

Bata Guba and mother (Photo - Francis Nii)The youngest victim of osteomyelitis is 18 months old Bata Guba from Opul village in the Sinasina-Yongmugl District. He was only six months old when diagnosed with osteomyelitis in March 2011 and was admitted for medication.

The sores have healed after treatment under the new regime. But the bone has been severely affected hence the doctors are currently working on helping its regrowth.

The surgical team of Dr Jan Jaworski, Dr Damien Hasola, Dr Chris Mungkas and Dr Herrythrengi would like to expand the research into a second phase which is to find out the origin or source of the bacteria with the aim to develop a control and preventive mechanism.

Jimmy Drekore has assured the doctors that SCF will continue to fund the research. Congratulations to the Simbu Children Foundation for being the first home-bred NGO to fund scientific research. To everyone, well done!


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Tony Flynn

Unknown infections and sicknesses not responding to drugs are often taken as an expression of sanguma. A search for and punishment of the alleged perpetrator then takes place.

I know of the death of one alleged sorcerer. Maybe osteomyelitis is one of these causal factors. This research may directly save death or injury to innocent people.

Bernard Yegiora

Thank you Francis for a wonderful insight into the research.

Hope you continue to update.

Gigil Marme

Well done SCF for the great humanitarian work.

More research is the way forward to discover new knowledge thanks to the hard working doctors in Simbu.

Phil Fitzpatrick

Joe Nombri would be very proud.

Michael Dom

A piece of good news right there. Thank you.

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