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32. Preventive healthcare

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In some mission countries, the element of poverty was apparent. This cannot be said about Papua New Guinea. Sure, there were, and still are people who lack the necessities of life, but those who lived in the traditional village communities generally did not suffer from lack of food. You can harvest the sweet potatoes all year around in Papua New Guinea, for example.

So, the question of food on the table was not a big issue. However, the knowledge of the connection between hygiene and diseases was particularly deficient. At this time, in the mid to late 1970s, foreign nurses were not allowed to practice their profession in the hospitals in Papua New Guinea. The reason for this was that the authorities were afraid that the people, as a result of foreign nurses being allowed to work, would lose confidence in the national nurses who were not as well educated. It was, however, allowed to work with preventive health care as a foreign nurse, and in connection with this, one could of course also provide some medical assistance.

As mentioned earlier in this story, Marianne was, and is, a trained nurse as well as a midwife. When Petrus Hammarberg was on his visit in Mount Hagen in early 1977, he suggested that Marianne should start a preventive healthcare programme. This programme would be funded by SIDA (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency) through PMU. This correlated very well with Marianne's desire to use her nursing training background to help the Papua New Guineans. Moreover, it meant that she got a salary, which was more than welcome to the family finances.

Marianne speaks: I contacted the hospital in Mount Hagen and they were very positive to such a programme. They promised to help with first aid materials and teaching aids such as illustrated picture cards. Thanks to a small grant from PMU, we could buy a Zuzuki minivan. The car was my mobile clinic. I also had a small clinic beside our house, but I reached more people because of the mobile clinic.

The women I wanted to reach usually only spoke the local tribal language, so I had the help of a national girl who interpreted for me. There were also other missionaries who participated in this programme, for example Ann-Britt Bernhardsson, Elizabeth Swahn and Kristina Olsson. Later on, when local churches were formed in the villages there were some female church members who started to help us out. This was, as previously mentioned, a gathering for women, but in the beginning a lot of men came to check what we were doing. I felt a little scared when they arrived with their long bush knives, but nothing dangerous happened.


In the beginning, the interest for health education was not large, so to attract women to come we supplemented with other teaching. We taught them, among other things, how to sew on hand-operated sewing machines that we had with us. The result of this was that some women bought their own sewing machines. They sewed simple garments, which they then later on sold on the market. A wife of one of the pastors was so diligent to sew and sell that she in the end could buy her husband a new car, which helped a lot in his work. We also had reading and writing lectures, but not a lot of people were interested in such courses. People didn’t think that they needed to be able to read. In connection with the teaching, we always had devotions in which we read a story from the Bible and sang, of course. There were many women who thus came to believe in Jesus Christ.

With the help of posters, we taught people about various health issues. But we also focused on simple things in our teaching, such as how to store different things correctly and so on. Accidents related with kerosene happened because they had bottles and cans of it standing inside their huts. Many of them had scabies and we were then able to help them with medication and teaching them how to prevent scabies. We also gave advice on various foods and nutrition, since the nationals’ diets were quite one-sided. An important part of our teaching focused on babies and toddlers. Among other things we explained to the women why it was forbidden for them by law to use baby bottles, due to the problem of keeping them sterile in their living environment. The problem with baby bottles became greater in the mid-80's, as more women became well educated and were able to get permits to buy them.


Sometimes someone happened to be sick on the site we visited. If I made the judgment that he or she was in need of hospital treatment, we drove the patient to the hospital in Mount Hagen. There were also smaller clinics, but unfortunately the so-called barefoot doctors often just gave the patients a couple of aspirins and penicillin and malaria tablets no matter what the problem might have been. This standard treatment did not always help. Therefore, I chose to take the patient to hospital. Another problem was that the nationals were afraid to go to the hospital because the general consensus was that you went there to die. This approach meant that once you got to the hospital, it was often too late to cure the sick, and so it became a "self-fulfilling prophecy", that is, if you went to the hospital, you died. In addition to the state hospital in Mount Hagen, there was a mission hospital within an hour´s drive from Mount Hagen. There were American doctors and the equipment was relatively efficient. The problem was that if a foreign patient was to receive care there, you would have to organize a trained nurse by yourself. This meant that sometimes I had to be the nurse, such as when Anders and Kristina Olsson's child needed surgery to remove his appendix.

We also tried to get women to understand that it was in the hospital they would give birth to their children and not in the bush. The traditional approach was that when a woman was about to give birth, she went out in the bush and was gone for a week. This often led to complications for both the mother and the child. Eventually there was a slight improvement in this area, but many women still went through a lot of pain and suffering. Sometimes, I was called for when a woman was lying in the forest bleeding. At one point, I needed to drive a woman to the hospital, but the man refused to help me carry her to the car. It was not that he was special in any way, but rather that the general perception that touching women's blood would destroy them. But when I explained that she would die if he didn’t help me, I finally got him to help me out.

PMU and SIDA funded this programme until 1980, but we continued after the support stopped as well.

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