Papua New Guinea
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Clinic closed, patients told to wait

Shoulders slumped, head down, they are in despair, women who have come for their routine check are now being turned away from the Port Moresby General Hospital Cancer Clinic and Chemotherapy room because it has been closed.

They can only listen as they contemplate what happens now as they try to decide on their next move to get treatment or access to medicines.

The facial expression and the body gestures shown by these patients and their loved ones who take time to bring them for check up can really show how desperate they are in need of this specialised service.

The cancer clinic has closed for almost three weeks now and patients have been sent home to wait while for those who can afford to purchase their drugs from overseas are doing that.

Beds are empty in Port Moresby General Hospital Cancer Clinic and Chemotherapy room.

For others, faith is what is keeping them going.

According to the patients and relatives who accompany their loved ones to go to the clinic for chemotherapy sessions, they have been told the clinic is closed and this is the third week of closure and this will be indefinite until the Laminar Flow Cabinet is fixed.

Since this paper started covering stories of cancer patients and the impact it has on the family, friends and the country as a whole, we have uncovered so many of the shortfalls we have in our healthcare system and how expensive it is to afford and have access to basic healthcare services.

Since her fight against breast cancer started in April this year, Tess Gizoria has been receiving treatment at PMGH.

“I went back to Port Moresby General Cancer Clinic on Monday this week.

“I haven’t raised what I need yet for surgery or radiation but I’m planning to travel on faith.

Not mine though, because mine has dwindled down to nearly nothing.

I’ll see if I can get some tests and a consult with my oncology surgeon done while I’m away.

“The purpose for my cancer clinic visit was to pick up a couple of medical certificates, my referral, and a report on my treatments and the assessments that were done so far.

“I had a good long talk with my oncology nurse, and got a saddening report of the status of the Clinic.

The Cancer Clinic usually offers chemotherapy sessions on Monday through Thursday.

On Fridays, the Clinic offers free physical examinations.

Tess found out that the Clinic has been closed for two weeks.

Having a background knowledge as an industrial and applied chemist, she understands
what the dangers are when exposed to highly toxic substances like the chemotherapy drugs without proper equipment for safe handling.

What she saw in the clinic is a singular flow cabinet or a basic fume hood.

“It’s similar in functionality to the hood you may find in your kitchen, sitting over the stove top. It suctions aerosols, reducing the chances of inhalation,” she said.

As a result of these issues, the nurses have been working without a functioning Laminar Flow Cabinet for years.

“Remember me saying, my wanting a daughter will be a miracle because my reproductive system has been affected by the chemo drugs?

“There are newly married nurses who started over five years ago in the Cancer Clinic and who have not had kids.

“Nurses are getting sick and there is no way to connect it all to exposure to the chemo drug aerosols because we just aren’t there yet in terms of testing capacity,” she said.

The nurses revealed that they don’t get any sort of allowance for manually handling toxic substances in unsafe work environments.

“Imagine if I can’t hug or kiss my babies for days after treatments, these women do it week in week out and still go home to their loved ones daily,” she said.

Papua New Guineans, we have a problem where the cancer clinic is closed indefinitely until the PMGH management decide they should put resources into fixing this equipment and provide a safe environment for chemotherapy to be issued to patients.

When asked to confirm if he is aware of the closure of the cancer clinic, hospital CEO Dr Paki Molumi told the Post Courier yesterday saying: “Yes, I am aware and its to do with issues with the fume cupboard. It’s fixed and functional.”

Another day, another problem but Tess’s personal battle with the dreaded cancer continues.
She has been told many times since her journey started that in other parts of the world, breast cancer is not a death sentence.

“Yet for many here in PNG, it is because the simple things that can be done just are not done!” she said.

While for another working class woman who takes time off from work and takes her mother to the clinic told the Post-Courier that doctors and nurses should take stock of how they can best help their patients as the more delays they have they might as well cost the lives of individuals.

“Went in the previous week to register as a new patient and they said to come by Wednesday and then said the machine that is used to mix the medicine is currently not working.

“We were told to return the next week and we did on Monday (two days ago) and waited with everyone, only to be told that the machine is still not working and the doctor is going to take the week off to fix that.

She said whilst for those new patients trying to register and reviewed patients, will have to come back next Monday and check as they can only help those that are on medication.

“It is a frustrating experience as cancer needs to be looked at seriously as the more delays there are to help those diagnosed get treated, it slowly eats away at the individual,” she said.