Fighting for a forgotten cause in West Papua
Olgeta mas sanap lo abrusim bagarap blo rot

Back then we carried forward the fight against malaria


On patrol in Pora PoraTHIS PHOTOGRAPH WAS TAKEN BY my wife Deborah in 1973 while we were on patrol in the Pora Pora census division of the Angoram sub-district.

It shows John Pandum and me taking a blood sample in one of the half-yearly anti-malaria visits to the area.

The people of Pora Pora were prone to a lot of sickness: malaria, pneumonia, tropical ulcers, TB, influenza and many minor complaints.

It was amazing what could be done with penicillin, chloroquine and a few other simple remedies.

John Pandum was a squad leader in my malaria team. He retired to his village in the Murik Lakes some years ago. On my recent visit to Angoram I heard he is not too well.

This photo conjures in my mind many of the splendid activities carried out by officers in the colonial period.

By and large we didn’t think we were anything special. Many young white officers were red-blooded, got pissed and whisked off the occasional woman, but all substantially did their job.

My mind turns to the many fine officers I knew in various government departments, including agricultural officers Francis Xavier Ryan, Dave Willis, Don Pybus, Alan Pretty, Luke Blansjaar, Mike Goodson and many others.

These men did extensive field work visiting villages and advising on planting coffee, rubber, eucalyptus and teak trees, rice, vegetables and other crops as well as the care of livestock. The point being I make is that they did actually visit the villages and had direct contact with the rural people.

Many fine kiaps come to mind: Dan Claasen, Jock McIntyre, Bob Bunting, Dave Bretherton, Mark O’Regan, Wayne Cross and others. They visited the villages and adjudicated disputes.

The Health Department had a score of dedicated personnel. Doctors like David Parkinson and Jan Saave, medical assistants like Frank Gilbert, Des Hill and a legion of other names come to mind.

Of field officers in the Malaria Service we think of the likes of Andy Marke, Jim van der Kamp, Bob Allen, Jock Murray, Norm Coyle and countless others; officers who not only visited villages but garden houses and structures outside the villages.

Some of the criticism we hear of colonial governments does at times rather amuse me. Of course we all know what a splendid job Robert Gabriel Mugabe has done in Zimbabwe! Most ordinary Africans were much better off under British rule in the then Southern Rhodesia than they are today.

Even in PNG Sir Michael Somare is supposed to have said after 20 years of independence that Papua New Guineans were worse off than at the time of independence. “The nation is in ruins right now.” Some would say he did not help much.

The massive anti-malaria program started by the colonial administration in 1958 was stopped in some years after independence. The disastrous results of this are obvious to see. In a place like Wewak cerebral malaria is a constant menace around the town and surrounding areas.

Let’s hope the PNG government will get its act together and do something positive against the scourge of malaria.

The fight against malaria in PNG is now mainly conducted by NGOs. Bed nets impregnated with insecticide are supplied by overseas agencies and it is pleasing to note that AusAI also makes a contribution.


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