‘People walked 5 hours for a paracetamol’ – Inside MAF PNG’s Aerial Health Patrols

11th February 2022

MAF pilot Glenys Watson (L) drops off Aerial Health Patrol team Amanda Avinaga (C), Samuel Mori (R) & Malachi Liko (far R) in Indagen

Indagen is a hidden mountain community in Morobe Province, north-eastern Papua New Guinea. With no roads, it’s only accessible by air or by foot. Decent healthcare is hard to come by. In response, MAF, Braun Hospital and Etep Rural Hospital joined forces this month, enabling hundreds of people to see a doctor for the first time in years…

Indagen – six hamlets nestled within the peaks of Saruwaged Range – is easy-to-miss.

On 7 February, MAF’s Glenys Watson lands on Indagen’s airstrip carrying eight medical professionals and 25kg of lifesaving drugs that can transform lives in an instant.

In seconds, the aircraft is surrounded by curious yet welcoming villagers. Word of MAF’s arrival spreads fast – news of an Aerial Health Patrol reaches other villages.

Indagen does have a small clinic run by a handful of staff, but the shelves are empty – drugs, bandages, intravenous fluids, drip lines and basic consumables ran out long ago.

The nearest hospital is in Etep – a two-day walk away.

600 patients in 3 days

For the next three days, Aerial Health Patrol leader Dr Simon Ganal and his team, treat and advise around 600 patients. They facilitate much needed consultations, surgeries, cancer screenings, vaccinations, ultrasound scans, health talks and blood, urine and eyesight tests.

Hundreds of people from miles around wait outside Indagen Clinic hoping to see a medic

Of the 600 patients, 38 receive surgery and 71 have eye consultations. All 600 listen to critical medical advice about coronavirus, hygiene, family planning and TB.

For the first time in years, hundreds of people within Indagen’s vicinity are being treated properly for tumours, osteoarthritis, TB, pelvic inflammatory disease, eye problems, respiratory diseases, STDs, reflux, hernias, cysts and backache.

A patient (R) is having an eye test for the first time in years

One of the team and MAF passenger – medical officer Samuel Mori – is both overwhelmed and humbled by the sheer need of the people:

‘People are happy to wait all day just for a chance to be seen. It’s heart-breaking seeing people who’ve walked 5 hours over three mountain ranges just to receive basic medical advice and a packet of paracetamol.

‘A 2 hour wait at Port Moresby Hospital in the city for a Panadol would cause a tantrum, but for these people, a 5 hour walk means receiving a service. I never imagined severely marginalised people would be so accepting of so little, with such a grateful heart.

‘Our mission is to give, but I’ve received more in return – a lesson in humility from a forgotten people who appreciate so little and never act like victims despite their harsh circumstances.’

Samuel Mori, an Aerial Health Patrol medical officer

MAF pilot Glenys Watson unpacks lifesaving medical supplies

Mr Benson’s story

70-year-old Mr Benson had a huge swelling in his groin and scrotum (hydrocele).

He tried to get treatment from other hospitals, but due to coronavirus, it was difficult to access surgery. He lost motivation and hope to seek any more help.

Fortunately, Mr Benson lives near Indagen and news of the Aerial Health Patrol gave him new hope.

He explained to the team that the swelling caused him pain and restricted his movement.

Thanks to the team’s clinical expertise and use of ultrasound, Mr Benson was diagnosed with an inguinal hernia – his soft tissue and intestine had bulged through the weakest part of his abdominal wall.

He was operated upon on site, and received appropriate, safe surgery not far from his doorstep.

Mr Benson was so happy about recovering in his own home, surrounded by family members who could care for him.

The only way to access Indagen is by plane or by foot

‘A little goes a long way’

For medical officer Amanda Avinaga, it’s her first Ariel Health Patrol adventure into rural Papua New Guinea:

‘It’s a very eye-opening experience – I’ve learnt a lot! Our people have great needs in these rural areas, especially in Indagen where there is no road access whatsoever, and they walk for at least a day to get to the nearest hospital. Their only transport is via plane.

‘Indagen Clinic is run by six very hard working, committed people with little resources. They try to serve the people here, but there’s great need even for the little things – medication, oxygen and a proper water supply. A little goes a long way!

‘I’ve come here to give, but they have given me their gratitude, hospitality, kindness and faith. They are so appreciative of the little things we do.

‘Also, big thanks to MAF – we definitely need more Aerial Health Patrols!’

Fellow Ariel Health Patrol teammate and MAF passenger, Malachi Liko, agrees with Amanda’s sentiment:

‘It was really busy every day – people came from everywhere. Even though we were tired and there were still heaps of people waiting in line at 6pm, we just had to see them.

‘Even though I was exhausted at the end of the day, I felt happy and fulfilled. At least they gained something from us and we gained something from them. It was really good.’


This is the first time staff from both Braun Hospital and Etep Rural Hospital in Morobe Province have worked together for an Aerial Health Patrol. With MAF’s support, leader Dr Simon Ganal, is delighted by what they have collectively achieved:

Aerial Health Patrol leader Dr Simon Ganal (R) carrying out essential surgery

‘Organising outreaches with Braun and Etep together makes outreach more sustainable. Sharing capacity makes it a lot easier. Having a big team enables a comprehensive outreach across all primary healthcare.

‘Our out-patient team saw almost 200 patients a day. We did vaccinations, surgeries, antenatal checks, tests, cancer screenings, health talks – that was only possible because of a bigger team – it was really special.

‘Thanks MAF! We look forward to making an action plan this year. We are very excited to keep the ball rolling!’



Following a successful Aerial Health Patrol, practically the whole of Indagen turn up on the airstrip to wave goodbye.

God willing, they won’t have to wait too long for the next one.

Residents of Indagen wave goodbye to MAF and partners until next time

Read about MAF PNG’s Aerial Health Patrol from Kompiam Hospital