Following a full day of contractions with no birth, MAF South African pilot, Steven Eatwell medevaced the couple to Rumginae Rural Hospital from their remote village of Debepare in Papua New Guinea (PNG), an otherwise weeklong trip by boat and walking. Doctors Sharon Brandon from New Zealand and Kevin Pondikou from PNG successfully facilitated a safe delivery of Loretta’s first baby boy.
“She had been in labor too long, and the contractions weren’t strong enough,” Dr. Kevin explained. “If the labor had continued in the village, it would have resulted in a fetal and maybe maternal death. We had to put up oxytocin, a chemical that causes the contractions to come. In the remote aid posts, the health workers are not trained to that level.”
The doctors at Rumginae Rural Hospital are experienced in difficult births and have saved the lives of countless women and babies. Many baby girls have been named after Dr. Sharon, a gesture of gratitude. Loretta and Eric’s healthy baby boy is named after MAF pilot Steven Eatwell.
The Hospital on the River
Located in the hot lowlands of Papua New Guinea’s Western Province, Rumginae Hospital serves the surrounding remote communities, many only accessible by boat, walking, or flight. MAF serves the hospital, as well as other mission groups, churches and isolated communities with two pilot families (Steven & Camilla Eatwell and Markus & Madeleine Bischoff) and a plane, a GA8 Airvan based at Rumginae outstation.
The hospital, a cluster of dark wood buildings connected by covered walkways, was established in the 1960s by Asia Pacific Christian Mission* and is now run by the Evangelical Church of Papua New Guinea (ECPNG). The 60-bed facility provides health care for a large part of Western Province, not only through the hospital but also through 15 isolated health centers and aid posts staffed by Community Health Workers (CHW) scattered across the North Fly District.
The MAF outstation facilities sit across a grassy airstrip from the hospital with the Wei Meri River making a lazy loop at the north end of the strip. The single Airvan parks next to a tiny one-room ‘terminal’ with a hand-carved wooden sign jokingly proclaiming it as the ‘International Rumginae Airport’. The tail end of the plane points directly at Dr. Sharon’s house providing a rather loud wake-up call each morning as the engine roars to life, blowing loose items off her kitchen counter.
The medevac service is one vital link between the hospital and MAF, but there are many other services the hospital relies on which also save lives.
“MAF is completely essential for our work here,” Dr. Sharon explains. “MAF brings us patients. Maybe in the morning I’m packing medicine to send to health workers at one of our remote health posts. Every day when I’m on the radio schedule there’ll be a health worker saying ‘I need vaccines’, or ‘I’ve got this patient with epilepsy. What am I supposed to give them? I don’t have anything’, and I’ll send medicine on the next plane. Or they’ll say, ‘My father just died. I need to come back’.
‘MAF supports our health workers so they can serve in the remote villages. We are totally involved and linked to be able to work with our remote aid posts.’
Top: Dr. Sharon finishes off a hot, busy day with a swim in the Wei Meri River near Rumginae Hospital.
It’s 12:00 noon and Dr. Sharon sits in a narrow passageway at a tiny desk talking on an HF radio. It’s a scheduled consultation time between doctor and health workers at the 15 remote health aid posts. The HF radios, installed and serviced by MAF’s Technology Services (also known as CRMF), are yet another way that MAF and the hospital are linked.
“What signs of dehydration do you see?” Sharon asks into the radio handset. The voice crackles back, almost unintelligible, “Sunken eyes, and skin is slack.” “What is his weight?” “So you’re treating her with pain relief but it’s not helping?” “You need to give him much more fluid.” The questions and assistance continue for an hour with the various aid posts.
“We give advice on the radio and frequently arrange with MAF to go pick patients up,” Sharon says. “The health worker on the other end often just says ‘Thank you for your help. God bless you.’
They’re so grateful just to talk to somebody and get help for their patient. It’s a partnership between MAF and CRMF, and the health workers here at Rumginae and other places. It’s a lifeline for people out in the bush to receive the care, the communication, and the transport that they need.”
Linking Physical and Spiritual
God has used Rumginae Hospital to save countless lives, and their heart lies in assisting isolated people who have little access to medical services. Equally important is the spiritual health of the people. The two are inseparable. “We want to train health workers to go out into those remote areas with a medical manual in one hand, and the Bible in the other,” Dr. Rosie Crowter explains.
Rosie came from England to Rumginae in 1997 and worked for 12 years treating the physical health of the people before moving full-time into church ministry, connecting the dots between spiritual darkness and health.
“I started off doing community health education. A team of us flew with MAF and went around the village of Mougulu doing a nice drama and education about malaria. But in every village, we asked what is the cause of malaria? Every time the people said, ‘sanguma’. Magic. I thought, I’m wasting my time doing health education when everyone knows the sickness is due to magic.
I need to address that underlying issue, and the only thing that can address that is God and God’s Word so their fear of magic will disappear.”
MAF now supports the ministry Rosie began by transporting books and flights to people in remote locations, teaching men and women the Biblical principals of God’s power, sovereignty, and love.
“MAF is a key part of what I’ve done, and what I’m doing now,” Rosie says. “Without MAF, we wouldn’t be able to do women’s workshops or the rural training courses because it would be impossible to get there. MAF is a crucial part of our work.”
Linked by a Common Purpose
Without Rumginae Hospital and the support that MAF and CRMF provide to isolated people in western PNG, many women would have died or lost a baby in childbirth.
MAF and Rumginae Hospital remain faithfully linked by this common purpose: to reach isolated people with Jesus’ love.
Story and Photos by LuAnne Cadd