Desperate for a dentist in Papua New Guinea

Desperate for a dentist in Papua New Guinea

Two young Papua New Guinean dentists are making a big difference in remote communities that have never had access to dental care.

Dentist Dr. Kaspar Puli and Macquin Anduwan, a dental therapist, returned recently from Mougulu, Papua New Guinea (PNG), where the pair had provided much-needed dental care.

‘The only access to Mougulu is by plane,’ Dr. Kaspar Puli explains. ‘To get from Mougulu to Hela Province is a three-day walk, and to Kiunga the nearest town in Western Province takes seven days. People live in scattered communities. There are no shops and no road links.’

‘We treated a man with an impacted wisdom tooth who had walked for six hours. He told me, “I want to remove my tooth because it is very painful.”'Dr. Kaspar Puli

Dr. Puli and Macquin arrived to help the health post’s exhausted staff. A single nurse and a Community Health Worker (CHW) do their best to provide basic care to more than 15,000 patients who walk up to four days to reach the health centre.

Life is hard in Mougulu, and Dr. Puli witnessed a lot of poverty. ‘Some people in more remote villages don’t have a single set of clothes to wear. A few used mosquito nets to wrap around their bodies. Some of them haven’t eaten rice, noodles, used cooking oil, or washed with soap within the last two months, or seen a car in their lifetime.’

Tropical diseases 

‘We felt that we were really needed. We attended to the patients for whole days and sometimes even during the evening.’

Patients presented with conditions that can be treated, or easily prevented, including leprosy, malaria, TB, pneumonia, and elephantiasis (itching caused by a parasite on the leg or breast that swells).

‘Sadly malnutrition is very high, and you often see kids with big bellies. Maternal and child health is a great concern as family planning is non-existent.’

'The support that MAF gives to communities cannot be overstated. Without MAF we would not have been able to fly into Mougulu and do the work we did!' Dr. Kaspar Puli

‘We had a couple lose their baby girl to severe pneumonia, just as they reached the Health Centre. She was malnourished and severely dehydrated. This really saddened our hearts.’

'We did a lot of health education and gave advice on growing and eating a variety of vegetables, instead of eating just sago and bananas. It was clear that their lack of nutrition had impacted their ability to concentrate and retain the information we gave them.'

Trained to pull teeth

Community Health Worker Henick Taprin was eager to improve his dentistry skills and learn as much as he could from Dr Puli and Macquin. 'He spent two weeks observing a range of dental procedures, sterilising instruments and assisting us with patient treatments,' Dr Puli explains.

'We trained him to treat common oral diseases, to perform extractions, to administer proper local anaesthetics and [showed him] how to manage complications. During our last three weeks in Mougulu, he performed simple extractions under our supervision. We left with confidence in his ability to extract teeth and do more dental awareness.'

Terrible toothache

‘We treated a man with an impacted wisdom tooth who had walked for six hours from Kasami. He told me, “I want to remove my tooth because it is very painful.”

‘I have done a few extractions like this before in my residency. I didn’t have any drills, but we did local anaesthetics and, together with Macquin, we removed the tooth using elevators and forceps.

‘In Port Moresby, this would cost about K3000 (£700), but this was for free for the man. He appreciated our work greatly and later came back with a few peanuts to thank us.’

God inspired

‘I could earn a large amount of money if I were to work in a private clinic in Port Moresby. To remove a wisdom tooth, a dentist would charge around K3000 in the capital. Here in the bush it would be about K30 (£7) or nothing, depending on the ability of the patient to pay.

‘We are not here to make money but to serve the people. This gives me joy and great satisfaction. I serve a lot of unfortunate people here and to relieve someone’s pain is greatly rewarding. To see my patients happy after a consultation is priceless. God works with us. We don’t have all the resources we need, but God inspires us.'

Above and beyond

It wasn’t just dental patients the pair were able to help. They also treated a man who had lost a lot of blood from cuts all over his neck and his leg.

‘We inserted an IV cannula and gave him one litre of saline, stitched the skin on his neck, back and fingers, and applied bandages around his foot.

‘An aircraft was organised to take the patient to Kiunga, where he would get a tendon repaired. I was glad to be able to stitch him together and send him to even better medical care for his leg.’

MAF made it possible

‘MAF has been in PNG for such a long time and the support that MAF gives to communities cannot be overstated. MAF does a tremendous job that the government cannot do. They service isolated communities and enable them to receive basic building materials, teachers, health consumables, medicine and much more as well as evacuating patients. Without MAF we would not have been able to fly into Mougulu and do the work we did!'

'To relieve someone’s pain is greatly rewarding. We don’t have all the resources we need, but God inspires us!' Dr. Kaspar Puli