Thinking about it now, it’s quite incredible that I’m able to be sitting here in the lounge of the USNS Mercy after a long week of CHE’s in the field doing extractions in Bouganville, Papua New Guinea. Never would I have imagined that this would be able to become a reality to be doing what I’m doing and to be able to experience such unique opportunities. I’ve always wanted to go on humanitarian trips to pursue my love for both travelling and community service, and everything I’ve been able to do thus far during my time with Pacific Partnership has really fulfilled that desire.
The past couple of days being able to go out to Bouganville and operate at Arawa has been such an eye opening experience. We arrived in Papua New Guinea, surrounded by the beautiful mountains and the sea. Driving through Arawa, it’s just the green countryside all around you with an undisturbed tranquility and beauty.
Once we got to the site, I think that’s when I really realized just how much the work that we’re able to do really matters. There was a huge line of patients waiting outside of the health clinic in Arawa for medical treatment and other healthcare, and I just kept thinking to myself, “Wow, this is crazy.” Seeing so many people who seek healthcare and being able to interact with the patients in clinic—made me realize that we definitely take our health for granted.
I know for a fact that I easily overlook the fact that I have my health. Several of the patients that come to the Arawa Health Clinic have actually travelled around three hours to get care, visiting from other provinces of Papua New Guinea. I know people probably aren’t too crazy about the idea of visiting their dentist, let alone waking up early to wait in line for hours to get their teeth pulled, but here in Papua New Guinea, I’ve seen just how much of an impact that oral health can have on one’s overall health. Another thing is, many of these people don’t know how to brush their teeth correctly, and most (if not all) don’t know how to use floss or even know what it is. These things seem so trivial, but when you see the conditions of long term calculus buildup, it’s easy to see why these things are so important. Buildup of plaque from improper brushing and flossing can lead to dental caries, and when left untreated, it can lead to further decay, spreading to the root and causing periodontal disease, which is very painful and expensive to treat.
Chewing betel nut (or what they call buai) is also very common here in Papua New Guinea, which causes teeth to become worn and sensitive, and causes staining and discoloration of the teeth and creates risks for gum disease, oral cancer and mucosal lesions. Not being educated on the risks of chewing buai or why it is important to brush teeth could prevent a lot of the problems that are presented in patients and could also get rid of a lot of the pain that these patients have to go through.
My hope for what we were able to accomplish in the Arawa CHE is that we could properly educate them on important subject matters relating to the importance of oral healthcare to minimize the pain that many of these patients have as a result of decay and infection and leave a long lasting impact on the people of Arawa and for future generations to come.
Written July 3, 2015