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Radio Australia: Interview with the International President of MSF during his recent visit to Papua New Guinea


Updated 9 November 2012, 18:22 AEST.

Listen to the entire interview on Radio Australia's site.


As posted on Radio Australia's website:

The International President of Médecins Sans Frontières, Dr. Unni Karunakara, is visiting projects run by the organisation in Papua New Guinea.

His latest stop is in the town of Tari in Southern Highlands Province, where he's meeting the staff at M.S.F's Family Support Centre in the local hospital, where more than a third of the patients are the victims of violence.

Steve Rice spoke to Dr. Karunakara a short time ago to find out more about the centre's work.

Presenter: Steve Rice

Speaker:The International President of Médecins Sans Frontières, Dr. Unni Karunakara

KARUNAKARA: This is my first visit to Papua New Guinea and my objective is to visit the two projects that we have in the country. We have a project in Tari, that's where I am now, and we have another project in Lae. And the focus of both of these projects are to provide medical and psychological support to victims of family and social violence. So that's basically what our teams do here. Actually when we came for a visit here what struck us was the absolute lack of healthcare and of course now Tari is now the capital of a brand new province, and they're getting some attention from Port Moresby, and they're beginning to setup some structures here. But they're far from being able to provide all of the essential medical services that people of Tari need. Our focus has always been to put a spotlight on problems that tend to be neglected by the national healthcare system for the community at large, and we were struck by the high levels of social violence in the Highlands. And that's what prompted us to setup family support centres, that should essentially do five things. The first thing is to ensure that victims of violence have access to emergency medical care. We also make sure that when they come for medical care they're also vaccinated for hepatitis B and tetanus. In addition we also make sure they get emergency contraceptives to prevent pregnancy following rape. We also make sure they have post prophylactics to prevent HIV, them being infected by HIV. And also we provide psychological support.

RICE: What have you found at Tari? What sort of buildings and people are there?

KARUNAKARA: The Tari hospital is rather small, it's like I said given the new status of Tari as a provincial capital, there should be a provincial hospital, but it's not. It's a bit more than a health centre, but MSF is now providing emergency surgical services as well. So we see a lot of people coming into the clinic that have been wounded in all sorts of violence that happens here. Violence is sort of normalised here, it's an everyday fact of life. But in addition, emergency surgical care, caesarean section that needs to be done. So this is the sort of emergency surgical care that we provide in Tari hospital. Apart from that the Ministry of Health are trying to provide some basic medical services as well.

RICE: Why did your organisation choose Papua New Guinea to setup these clinics?

KARUNAKARA: We work in medical humanitarian organisation that works in about 65 countries around the world, and as such our objective is always to work for people who are in a state of crisis, and we believe that in Papua New Guinea people are in, at least in Tari and Lae where we work, there is an ongoing crisis of social violence, which we are trying to address. And really trying to drive home the message that there are measures that can be taken for men and women who are victims of violence can have access to medical services, and can have and need access to psychological services as well. So that is the message that we've been trying to drive home in Papua New Guinea. We've had some success in Lae and in Tari, and we are engaged with the Ministry of Health to kind of learn lessons from our experience here in Papua New Guinea, and get the Ministry of Health to take some of these measures that we put in place on, and perhaps scale it up to the rest of the country.

RICE: So there's a chance that this sort of service will be provided in other areas of Papua New Guinea?

KARUNAKARA: That is our hope.