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MDG 4: Reduce Child Mortality

They walk for days through the highlands of Papua New Guinea, carrying a pack full of supplies, through rivers, knee-deep mud, and mountain passes. But they're not a group of Australian tourist trekkers; they're a group of very committed PNG health workers going to see their patients. And they're being funded as part of Australia's development program in PNG.

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Learn more about the Kokoda Development Program.

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Segment 1

VOICEOVER
Kokoda is synonymous with Second World War battles and the starting point for trekkers on the famous track, but it's also home base for one of the most dedicated medical teams on Earth. Led by a paramedic, when this group of health workers hits the road, a four-wheel drive takes them only to the edge of the jungle. The rest is done on foot, carrying medical supplies and equipment to the villagers. There are no roads in this part of the world, and the team can spend up to a fortnight away. Neighboring villages are not exactly close together. Getting from one to another takes time.
LEON SIME [Medical Team Leader]
About two days' walk, that would be the longest. Just by walking, we come to the last village.
VOICEOVER
The highlands of Papua New Guinea are so vast and so rugged, logistics and a lack of trained medical personnel combine to make this task enormously challenging.
LEON SIME
Sometimes we don't visit a particular village for years, some it's about two or three years we haven't gone in, because I don't have the manpower.
VOICEOVER
Not surprisingly, greetings when they do arrive at any village are very enthusiastic. There's little in the way of privacy for patients. It's like a social occasion as examinations are carried out in the full glare of those in the waiting room. Medicines are dispensed and children immunized, a process undertaken with such professionalism, it almost masks the underlying problems of healthcare in these remote communities.
LEON SIME
Every day we've seen a case of malaria, so malaria is still a common problem in here, and respiratory diseases like pneumonia, asthma, bronchitis.
REPORTER
Apart from the obvious difficulties encountered in servicing these remote areas, there's the problem of supplying vaccines. They need to be administered within 48 hours of refrigeration, and there are no cooling facilities out here. So a runner is dispatched between the teams in the field and the hospital. Sometimes that can be a day in either direction. Nevertheless the program is delivering positive results. Health outcomes are almost impossible to measure but the barometer of patient satisfaction is definitely rising.
MICHAEL LUCAS [Kanga Village Leader]
I think the services, what AusAID is bringing in our ward, it's ... I see that they are very happy.
JOHN DAIRE [Ebei Village Leader]
If this program continues, maybe our health problems in here will be reduced
VOICEOVER
Some villagers are being trained as in-house educators, providing the latest health messages, attempting to overcome centuries of reliance on traditional treatment for diseases like TB and malaria.
JOHN DAIRE
The traditional belief ... they believe that it's caused by sorcery, witchcraft.
VOICEOVER
Some other traditional methods: this demonstration of patient transport highlighting difficulties faced by the sick and injured, unable to walk to the hospital.
LEON SIME
Sometimes with a sick patient they carry them halfway and then the patient dies, so they have to turn back again.
VOICEOVER
Even stretchers are of little use during the wet season. River crossings become too dangerous between December and March, and the health team is confined to home base.
LEON SIME
In the wet season when someone's very sick it's difficult to bring them into hospital, so they stay there. They died, most of them.
VOICEOVER
Despite all the adversity, healthcare delivery comes with complete dedication and care. The only frustration, it seems, is the enormity of the task.
LEON SIME
We can't go out there into the villages and see everybody and talk to everybody. It's impossible for us.
VOICEOVER
The outreach program represents only a fraction of the total commitment to health in Papua New Guinea by the Australian and PNG governments, and to these villagers a visit from the medical team is a gift beyond measure.