Easter greetings: like Christians all over the world, we in Munda have been following the dramatic events of Holy Week with meetings daily in the church led by different groups from the community. We have moved from the party atmosphere of Palm Sunday, through the sharing of bread & wine on Thursday to Good Friday where we see Jesus betrayed and crucified. It is amazing that the people who hailed Him as King on Sunday were calling for his death on Friday, and this reminds us how fickle our emotions can be.
We are preparing to celebrate his resurrection tomorrow with an early morning Lotu followed by the Easter breakfast with the patients. Tonight we will show the Jesus film and tomorrow we will follow the glorious events of that first Easter morning when the women went to the tomb only to find the body of Jesus gone.
Why do you search for the living among the dead? This will be our theme as we remember what God has done for us in Jesus. Do we want to find him as our saviour and if so are we looking in the right place? We pray that God’s love shown to us through Jesus’ death and resurrection will be known to us all this Easter.
Dengue fever is still causing disruption to the health services in Honiara and we have just had the death of our first case here at Helena Goldie Hospital. A penetrating injury to the chest of a long-mouthed fish jumping into his canoe reminds us just how different practising medicine here is from general practice in the United Kingdom.
Jenny returned from Choiseul with Darity on Monday (18th) as planned. Although it initially seemed to be quiet there and the cyclone affecting the South Pacific prevented any significant sea travel for several days, we still arrived back exhausted. Emmy, the nurse in charge, was very happy to have our support, if only for a brief period. We did some education on nursing care to the nurses, and to all hospital staff on Tuberculosis.
During the second week we were able to visit some of the out-lying clinics, arriving back at Sasamunga on one day after dark, to find a worried Kaleb and his wife Lina on the beach with torches to guide us in. It was a dramatic journey with the lightening flashing & thunder crashing: fortunately we were safely back before the storm broke.
In the hospital, we managed patients with the following problems; a blunt eye injury from a catapult, appendicitis, treatment-resistant Tuberculosis and a young baby with pneumonia & heart failure. On our final day we were invited to join in the Lotu at Kaleb’s home village of Boë, followed by the traditional feeding of the preacher. It was a lovely day, but it meant that Jenny was running around afterwards making sure that all the patients to go to Gizo with us were ready for the 6am start on Monday.
Work on the runway has been going on here for the last 2 years but is about to reach an interesting phase, with planes landing at the hospital end of the runway from next month for several weeks. They will use two containers and the ground floor of the “Green House” at the U.C.S.I. as the terminal building.
The runway runs East-West with the town of Lambete on the east side , including the terminal. The hospital is about a mile to the west at the other end of the runway. It was built by the Japanese force after their defeat by the U.S at Guadalcanal in 1941/2. They apparently tried to hide the runway by covering it with trees, but local people informed the U.S. marines of its location. On one night before the Battle for Munda began, J.F.K. and 10 marines were shipwrecked near Gizo. He sent his famous “message in a bottle” to his fellow Marines based on the island of Rendova.
The work is contracted to a New Zealand firm Downer, who are several months behind schedule. There was a problem with the supply of gravel, which prompted the P.M.’s visit last week. We have asked the firm to look at the water pump and also to extend the hospital “Bomb-hole” as it is nearly full of clinical waste and old hospital equipment. Apparently they will move to work on the runway at Gizo when the job is finished here. At least they will not have to deal with unexploded bombs there as they have here.
One advantage of the planes landing on our doorstep is that transferring patients by plane should be easier. The Dash 8 is working again, so at least the service is back to normal, even if the runway is disrupted.
Our small house here at the hospital was not complete when we returned to the U.K. in April 2012. Over the last few weeks we have purchased a 600 gallon galvanised Aluminium water tank. This was installed before the recent wet weather, so was full within a week! We also asked a local builder to create a shower directly under the tank, therefore not needing a pump. His “boys” have been working on this over the last 2 weeks, with considerable disruption due to heavy rain and strong winds. However, it is now complete with a small basin for washing clothes at the side. During a cold winter in the U.K. it is hard to imagine that a cold shower outside would be welcome. Our fridge/freezer from our original house has been moved to Robina House for use when we have students & visitors staying there. They can also use our microwave and toaster.
Life in Honiara seems to be returning to normal with the weather settling, the number of cases of Dengue Fever reducing and the Dash 8 spare part arriving from Australia today. Many people have missed their international connections during this period. Only the Twin Otter and the 7 seater Island Hopper have been in use this week.
As the College of Nursing prepares for the graduation of the first Diploma students on 16th April, we have been trying to organise extra tuition before entry in Mathematics, Intermediate English, Biological Science and I.T. We have started to prepare an “in-house” I.T. course, but Steve Pearce suggested that the U.K. Methodist Church could meet the U.S.P. course fees for up to 15 H.G.H. selected students and up to 5 selected from Choiseul Province. There are also plans for the college to move towards external examinations for the Diploma students and to establish an entrance examination with sites in Honiara and Munda.
Jenny and Darity are expected to return on the Rava from Gizo on Monday afternoon, if they are able to get across the sea to Gizo by sea taxi on Monday morning.
The city was beginning to return to work in mid-February, after the usual Christmas and summer break. The cyclone warning was issued by the National Disaster Committee in early March, just as we were about to leave for Sasamunga. As a result of this warning, some wards at the National Referral Hospital in the capital were evacuated – some are virtually on the beach! The strong winds and heavy rain spread to affect the whole country by the evening of Wednesday (6th March), affecting transport and fishing.
The second problem over recent weeks has been an outbreak of Dengue Fever in the capital city of the Solomon Islands. This is caused by a virus (a flavivirus of the arbovirus family) and the vector is a mosquito that bites during daylight hours: Anopheles aegypti. After an incubation period of 4 to 8 days, symptoms develop including malaise, fever, headache, joint pains and sometimes a rash with vomiting. The only treatment available is Paracetamol and intra-venous fluids; there is no effective anti-viral treatment and no licensed vaccine available.
The third problem affecting the city has been air travel. The national airline Solair has cancelled a number of flights to and from Honiara. Steve’s flight from Munda on Thursday was cancelled, and his flight to Brisbane was delayed for 24 hours. Bruce Mullen (the Pacific representative of the Uniting Church of Australia) was expected in Munda on Monday this week, but has not arrived. We are still waiting for the arrival of some elective medical students from the U.K.
The Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo made a surprise visit to Munda on Saturday (9th) to try to break the deadlock over the supply of gravel for the airport upgrade. This was held in Davinia Taylor Hall at the hospital. He chaired a lively debate, with the hall full of local land owners. The current commissioner of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force is British, and Graham was able to talk to him about the airport and other matters. The royal visit to Honiara last September was also mentioned.
After the meeting the Prime Minister, the commissioner and over 20 policemen went down to Agnes Lodge for a small meal. Graham was able to speak briefly to the Prime Minister about the hospital and the work on the runway, before the P.M. got into the Dash 8 for his flight back to Honiara.
We have had very stormy weather here for the last 5 days, so Steve Pearce was fortunate to get to Choiseul and back by canoe, and then to catch his flights back to London via Honiara & Brisbane.
Meanwhile, Jenny and Darity remain in Sasamunga, with no internet access, intermittent mobile signal and the waves of the open Pacific Ocean crashing on the beach just in front of the hospital.
A visit from Steve Pearce (UK Methodist Church representative for SE Asia & Pacific) allowed a small team to make the crossing to Choiseul on Tuesday. We left at 6am and made good progress with the 75 H.P. engine on the Helena Goldie Hospital’s sea ambulance. We arrived on the beach at the place where the pioneer missionaries , Rev Goldie & Rooney, landed in 1905. We had a traditional welcome by two warriors brandishing spears. Our party then went on to have refreshments at a hospital house, before lunch and a small choir who sang a song of welcome to us. After lunch there were speeches and then a tour of the hospital. It is just a year since we (J & G) left to return to the U.K. and in that time there has been tremendous progress at the hospital, beyond our dreams!
The hospital secretary Kaleb Kotali has done a wonderful job, and he was pleased to show us round the hospital, after which we had a short meeting to discuss the plans for refurbishment this year. After this we had dinner prepared by the community, more speeches followed by an early night. At 1am an ante-natal patient arrived with some bleeding requiring antibiotics & IV fluid prior to transfer to Gizo.
The following morning we had devotions on the veranda of the new maternity unit, followed by exchange of gifts. We presented 3 donated items; a lap-top for the hospital treasurer, a haemoglobinometer for the medcial laboratory and a microscope for the clinic in the village of Panarui down the coast. We also presented a pulse oximeter purchased in the U.K. with funds raised by the young people at Wilpshire Methodist Church in Blackburn. By 10am we were back in the canoe with the ante-natal patient ready to make the crossing to Gizo. We were there by 2pm and were able to look round the new hospital (built by Japan), visit the education department and have some lunch before returning to Munda.
Jenny remained at Sasamunga with RN Darity from India,a mission partner supported by the Council for World Mission. They plan to stay for 10 days to continue discussions with kaleb and also to do some clinical work.
It was a pleasure to meet Tim and Wendy Bridgeman this week, previously mission partners who taught at the United Church high school Goldie College for several years before and after independence in 1978, returning to England in 1987. It was an inspiration to us to hear several of their ex-pupils express their gratitude to them at a small reception and meal on Monday evening. Their appreciation had grown over time as they were able to look back and see how the attitude & dedication of Tim & Wendy had left a lasting impression on them, and had helped them become the people that they are today, holding many of the more responsible jobs in the country.
We also enjoyed a visit from Bronwyn, representing Uniting World Australia. She is new to the post (replacing Bryan Cussen) and wanted to hear about the medical touring that they support financially. We enjoyed a meal together in our home and look forward to working with her.
An ongoing crisis with finance meant that some of our staff were upset by a delay in payment of their salaries. An assurance from the ministry to ensure that the hospital grant from January would be paid allowed the staff to be paid before the weekend, to their relief!