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The personal & professional struggles of Dr Kevin Pondikou

SCOTT WAIDE | EMTV Dr Kevin Pondikou & friends at Rumginae

WHEN Dr Kevin Pondikou arrived at Rumginae Rural Hospital in the Western Province he was quite happy to have found a job.

But the challenges that confronted him quickly brought to the fore the reality of rural medical service provision. Within a few days, he knew it wasn’t going to be an easy journey.

“The people live a very tough life even though we have a mine in the province,” he says. “Food is a problem. Cash is a problem. Many people live a very impoverished life.”

Rumginae is located in the North Fly District. Apart from the hospital, the former mission station has an airstrip and a training school for community health workers and a primary school.

While there are foreign missionary doctors working in Rumginae, there is a desperate need for Papua New Guinean doctors to take up positions at the rural hospital.

Without mobile phones, social media, and the internet, Rumginae would be a place forgotten. The hospital’s website is used by the missionary doctors to extend their call for help.

Government assistance is very limited and much of the help comes from missionary families overseas. They have a list of needs that is posted regularly on the website so that family members and donors can send the help they need.

When Kevin Pondikou arrived three years ago, he was the first Papua New Guinean doctor to work at Rumginae Rural.

His journey leading to his appointment as a doctor was not easy.

From an early age, he recalls having to deal with the stigma associated with having a family member with a mental illness.

His mother suffered from a form of psychosis and, at the age of 11, Kevin shut himself away from the world around him.

“She was unwell and as a nuclear family we accepted it. But it was difficult. I didn’t have a lot of friends because of the stigma of having a mentally ill parent.”

For most of his pre-teen and teenage years, Kevin’s interaction with people outside his immediate family was minimal. It was a period that lasted about 20 years. His mother passed away and then in 1996 Kevin’s older brother died leaving a large void in his life.

“He wanted to be a pilot and I wanted to be a doctor.”

About six years ago, Kevin faced his own mental health issues. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a psychiatric condition that is manageable but largely misunderstood in Papua New Guinea.

With little awareness in the community, Kevin went through one of the most difficult periods in his life.

He was assaulted and had his arm broken. Then he was arrested for breaking the windscreen of the hospital vehicle at Nonga Base Hospital in East New Britain where he had worked. Things got worse.

“I was in the police cell for one night and then I was sedated. When I woke up, I found myself at Laloki Psychiatric Hospital in Port Moresby.”

Kevin documented almost everything on social media and his arrest was published in the newspapers. Later he appeared on television after he was brought to Laloki and made a public appeal for help on social media.

After six weeks in Laloki, he was released. Having no means of supporting himself, he contacted staff at Rumginae Hospital.

“I was told to go to the website and fill in an application. Then I was given a ticket and travelled to the Western Province.”

“Life is much better here,” he says. “I have achieved a lot more in the last three years than before.”

Dr Sharon Brendon, one of the missionary doctors who made it possible for Dr Pondikou to work in Rumginae, has been helping to get the medication necessary to treat his bipolar disorder.

Managing bipolar has opened up a new chapter for Kevin. With help and support, his skills have been put to good use in an area that desperately needed good doctors.

“People die unnecessarily,” he says. “For some, it takes seven days to get to hospital. That shouldn’t be happening in 2017.”

There are many painful stories about life in rural Western Province as seen through the eyes of a Papua New Guinean doctor. He has taken to Facebook to write about the success and challenges. While doctors are some of the best trained professionals when it comes to handling personal emotions, it is sometimes difficult to separate the personal emotion from the work.

Dr Pondikou recalled a case where a woman suffering from TB and anaemia. Writing on Facebook in 2016 he said: “She was flown here by our Missionary Aviation Fellowship pilots based in Rumginae in what was a last ditch effort to save her life.

“This courageous woman was suffering from what turned out to be disseminated tuberculosis with heart failure secondary to lung disease.

“A long term missionary at Yehebi, Dale, and his wife had sponsored her and her husband’s tickets to fly to Rumginae. It was another glimpse into the awe inspiring work that missionaries continue to do for rural Papua New Guinea.”

Dr Pondikou recounted that the brave woman, even in the last hours of her life continued to feed her child with the rice she was given. But it was clear she was going to die.

“We had to let others know that she was going to die. So we organised for the plane to come. The missionary, Dale paid K3,000 for the charter. She was taking her last breaths. And just as a plane arrived, she died.

“The husband was crying and, you know in rural Papua New Guinea, when people cry you can feel it. It was just heartbreaking.”

The woman’s body could not be flown to her village just yet. As per regulations, the MAF plane could not carry a body without a body bag. Rumginae hospital didn’t have body bags. So someone was sent on a PMV to Kiunga to buy a body bag and return.

Looking back, Dr Pondikou speaks with a hint of regret saying he could have done things better even with the difficult conditions.

“I felt that I should have been more professional and left the woman in the village. I made a personal decision to bring her to the hospital.

He is now appealing to young doctors to go and work in rural areas of Papua New Guinea. He says, the pay is not good but it is important that doctors deliver much-needed services to places as remote as the Western Province.


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arthur williams

Just a small insight for the Moresby elites and most of the recent gang of MPs who will begin living a life of Reilly while the remoter and undeveloped areas of their nation languish in continuing neglected basic standard of living of the 21st century. No shade of government has really cared for the rural poor. They only come into the equation when along comes the resource exploiter company men who live it up at their 5~star as they entertain and grease the silly leaders of the nation how their environmentally socially friendly company is dedicated to improving the life of the Hela or Misima peoples.

Even now Botten of OilSearch is pushing his Exxon and Total mates greedily eager to get the LNG flowing through its existing pipes so as to maximise profits from what Peter Koim the gas Projects Coordination Officer is reported to have told the conference in The National on June 20th 2017 “…that the country’s LNG’s production cost is also less than other LNG producing countries.”

All the oily big boys are ignoring the wishes of the landowners of the West or Gulf who want to have a stand-alone project in each of their impoverished provinces. I applaud Chris Haiveta the Gulf Governor repeating that demand this past week, “They must listen to the Gulf people and build the refinery in the Gulf.”

Botten acknowledges there is glut in LNG and likely to be so for several years but goes on to tell us idiots he can truly prophesy that there will be a huge demand in near future~. Meanwhile over 300 shiploads of LNG gas have left theses shore worth approx..K60BILLION from the state’s original K19 billion investment…But only at end of 2019 or perhaps 2020 will PNG see any revenue from it.

Wow what a wonderful deal for PNG our clever leaders made in giving Exxon and its mates carte/blanche to coin billions for years while as Daniel says patients in Hela get to hospital in a wheelbarrow. Perhaps that could be the new government’s major development plan for 2017/2022 ‘FREE WHEELBARROWS FOR LNG RESOURCE OWNERS’ with a proviso that in the watery gulf Landowners could apply for a grant to have free paddles and inflatable rubber rings.
For our information our masters explained to us that LNG was in desperate straits when world prices slumped below $50 a barrel. Yet lately we have SANTOS CEO, Kevin Gallagher reporting “…the company made further progress on reducing costs, lowering net debt and improving the free cash flow position as cash flow BREAKEVEN for 2017 now sits at $33 per barrel, well below the $47 per barrel at the beginning of 2016,”
He’s not lying because in yesterday’s announcement of the Total’s buyout of Maersk it was reported, “Maersk’s oil portfolio is profitable at prices of $30 a barrel, meaning investors can expect profitable oil flows even if the market continues to hover at around $50 a barrel in the years ahead.”………. What happened to Botten’s prophesied shortage and consequent rising barrel prices?
Until PNG has negotiators capable of getting far better deals for it people it may be better to leave the huge resources deep in the ground. Meanwhile for greater transparency the government should tell all the oil companies they must have the revenues from sale of oil and gas handled within PNG financial system and during a moratorium on new projects renegotiate all existing deals providing for Landowners to have a better percentage share in each project.
The extractive industries never change. Only yesterday I was talking with an old man whose Dad would lie on his side for ten hours in pools of water chipping out coal from an 20 inch seam of coal. He’d wash in a tub in the kitchen all for a few bob a shift. On the surface the Crawshay, Lord Bute, Tom Powell etc built mock castles and baronial halls and served food from silver platters.

Robin Lillicrapp

An inspiring insight to the figurative mountains climbed by practitioners and patients in a PNG landscape where accomplishing outcomes may be attained only by extreme difficulty.
A salute to those workers involved is but the least of available offerings.

Daniel Kumbon

I have no adequate words to describe Dr Pondikou, the missionary doctors and health professionals working in Western Province.

“The people live a very tough life even though we have a mine in the province,” he says. “Food is a problem. Cash is a problem. Many people live a very impoverished life.”

Enga has Porgera gold mine but people also live tough in places like Penale, Yengis, Hewa, Karekare, Wert etc.

The LNG project is in Hela but I saw on EMTV's Mi Report, a man transporting a patient on a wheelborrow to hospital. He had been walking for long hours on the road.

Where is PNG headed with all the proceeds from our rich resource projects?

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