The original version of this article first appeared on GE Reports Australia.
Papua New Guinea’s infant mortality and maternal mortality rates are among the highest in the world.
Enga Province is Papua New Guinea’s most elevated province. For the estimated 300,000 to 400,000 people living there, those lush, soaring highlands and deep, water-swept valleys mean that getting to small towns from outlying villages can be a major logistical exercise.
Although high-altitude living suits the Engans just fine—few outsiders travel to this rugged Shangri-La in the north west of the country—the terrain means that many essential services, such as clinics equipped to provide modern maternal health care, remain a bridge (or no bridge) too far.
With the majority of PNG’s population living outside its towns, each province faces similar challenges. One consequence: PNG’s maternal and infant mortality rate is the highest in the region, and one of the highest in the world.
Portable ultrasound is changing that in Enga Province, thanks to a forward-thinking governor and the PNG Tribal Foundation.
Through a partnership between the PNG Tribal Foundation, Premier Healthcare and GE Healthcare, ten Vscan dual-probe pocket ultrasound units have been provided to health clinics in Enga province. American husband-and-wife physicians Dr Mark Hauswald and Dr Nancy Kerr traveled to the clinics, working with PNG’s Dr Solomon Kalit and health administrator Jacky Potane to show resident medical staff how to use the handheld ultrasound units. The inspiring story of the Vscans’ arrival at the clinics in Enga Province is told in this video.
The idea is to get ultrasound technology out to the people, even those who can’t or won’t visit one of the rural clinics in the province. Vscan handheld units can be recharged in vehicles on medical excursions away from the clinics, and solar charging is also just over the horizon.
“These Vscans will go out on patrol from the health centres,” explains Gary Bustin, a social entrepreneur who grew up in PNG and now divides his time between the US and the Tribal Foundation’s Port Moresby office. “We placed the Vscans strategically, so that they reach as much of the population as possible. For example, Yampu health centre serves 20,000 people, but they have about seven feeder clinics to their health centre. So they’ll take the Vscan out and do consultations at those clinics while they’re on patrol.”
The portability is just one leap forward for healthcare in the region; the sophistication of the technology is another. “There were a few ultrasounds around the clinics,” says Bustin. “We found some that were 25, 30 years old. They were very difficult to use; they didn’t provide anywhere close to the same quality of information, and they weren’t mobile either.”
“The Vscan was developed specifically to provide cost-effective access to high-quality healthcare,” says Matt Tucker, general manager, Ultrasound, Australia and New Zealand GE Healthcare. “It took what was available in an ultrasound machine that was the size of a washing machine and made it into the size of a handheld phone, which has allowed that technology to be taken out to remote regions.”
The Vscan ultrasounds are small but their ability to bring change—and save lives—is powerful.